The Legacy of the Byzantine Empire- An Epilogue to the Byzantine Alternate History Series; Featuring Interviews with 3 Byzantine History Enthusiasts

Posted by Powee Celdran

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Welcome back to the Byzantium Blogger! It’s now been over 2 weeks since I finished the final chapter of my 12-part Byzantine Alternate History series that had been going on for almost 8 months! Now since I have just finished the finale (chapter XII) of my 12-part Byzantine Alternate History series, I thought that it would be a great idea to do an extra special edition article to share my thoughts on the entire series I made (beginning in February and finishing in September of this year), how it taught me more about the very fascinating history of Byzantium and enriched the passion I had for it for over 2 years now. If you have been following my site, then perhaps you would recall that almost a year ago I came up with a similar special article like this when finishing off 2020 (read it here) wherein I discussed my personal story with Byzantine history and what it meant to me, as well as my learnings from it wherein I also announced that I would be doing an alternate history series for Byzantium for 2021. Now, this article will be something similar to that, except this one would be simply limited to my journey in writing the 12-part Byzantine Alternate History series, and since I am very much tired as of now considering that I completed writing all chapters, this article itself will not be as articulate in words as the chapters of the series, basically this article you will read is just me talking regularly. On the other hand, as we also finish off another quarter of this year 2021, I decided once again to do it with another special edition article, whereas this year I have already come up with two previous end of quarter articles, the first one being an interview with 5 friends on their thoughts on quotes from the Byzantine era despite them not being really familiar with it, and the next one being my own personal ranking of the 12 centuries of Byzantine history from my own personal best to least. This special edition article would then be as I said a reflection on all the 12 chapters I have previously written which covered the 12 centuries of Byzantium’s history with one chapter per century from the 4th to the 15th. By having over 1,100 years of history, the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) surely had gone through so much ups and downs, colorful characters that defined it, encountering all sorts of people from beyond, and so many changes both in territory and culture that would make it look like their empire’s history had gone such a long way that with about a thousand years going by, its history a thousand years earlier may have in fact seemed like that of a totally different country’s history altogether! Just as the Byzantine Empire and its history kept on evolving over these 12 centuries, the same can be said with my journey through these 12 centuries when putting all of them into 12 different stories over the months. From February to September of this year, I have gone through a very amazing yet challenging journey of writing 12 different alternate history scenarios for each of the 12 centuries of Byzantine history, and throughout these months I have somewhat gone through the same kind of ups and downs the Byzantines had gone through in their history, and in my case of writing this 12 part series, I have simultaneously been doing a social media campaign to spread awareness on the history of Byzantium where I have come across many groups on Facebook to share and gain new knowledge on Byzantine history, posted numerous posts on my Instagram to share some bits and pieces of Byzantine history, and as I always did since before create some videos in which I have shared on my Youtube channel No Budget Films. At the same time as I have written my 12-part series, I have created several artworks on historical figures and locations from the Byzantine era, and additionally throughout these past months that I have been sharing new information on Byzantium through Instagram and creating my alternate history series, I have also come across many channels and podcasts that made me learn more about the rich history and met so many interesting people along the way through social media who share similar interests as I do, especially in the very rich and complex history of Byzantium. As this article will be something to do about discussing the great legacy of the very colorful Byzantine Empire that still lives on up to this day, I will be interviewing 3 different people that I have come across over the past months on their thoughts about Byzantine history and how they can still see its legacy up to this day by asking each of them the same 3 questions, although each of them will be asked a separate 4th question after answering the 3. Much like the post I made several months ago wherein I interviewed different people on the history of Byzantium, this post would be something similar, although unlike the last one wherein I was asking people their thoughts on Byzantium despite knowing very little of it, for this one I will be interviewing those who are not only very familiar with it but passionate about it the way I am, thus the questions I will ask will be quite complex ones that only those who know Byzantine history very well can answer. This article will then begin off with my interviews on these 3 different Byzantine history enthusiasts and their thoughts about Byzantium’s history and legacy, then I will move on to my own personal journey throughout the time I wrote my 12-part series wherein I would like to share a behind-the scenes story of writing the 12 chapters including all the ups and downs I went through while immersing myself deeper into Byzantium’s history together with a bit about what other things I have been up to as I wrote my 12-part series, as well as the Byzantine themed artworks I made throughout the months. Afterwards, I would then move on to the lessons I learned from both the 12 centuries of Byzantine history and from my personal journey in creating content on Byzantium which for me was a very new experience as even though I have been into Byzantine history for the past 2 years and have posted articles about it, it was only this year when I began making myself public in sharing the history of Byzantium through social media. Lastly, this article will also have my thoughts on how I see the legacy of Byzantium living on up to this day, and then some updates on what I would do next now that I have completed my 12-part series, as after all my Byzantine journey is still continuing to go on.

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Read the 12 chapters of Byzantine Alternate History Here:

Chapter I- Roman Victory at the Gothic War (376-382), 4th Century

Chapter II- Preventing the Fall of the Western Roman Empire 4 Years in Advance, 5th Century

Chapter III- Justinian the Great Saves his Empire from the Plague and Personally Joins his Campaigns, 6th Century

Chapter IV- Constans II Relocates the Imperial Capital to Sicily, 7th Century

Chapter V- Emperor Artavasdos, the Unlikely Hero, 8th Century

Chapter VI- Irene and Charlemagne, the Wedding of the Century, 9th Century

Chapter VII- A Retelling of the Bizarre Byzantine Renaissance and the Macedonian (Amorian) Dynasty, 10th Century

Chapter VIII- A Byzantine Victory at the 1071 Battle of Manzikert and its Impact on the Empire, 11th Century

Chapter IX- Preventing the Catastrophic 4th Crusade in Advance, 12th Century

Chapter X- The 2nd Bulgarian Empire Captures Constantinople in 1235, 13th Century

Chapter XI- The Serbian Empire Takes Over and Saves a Dying Byzantium, 14th Century

Chapter XII- Constantinople Surrenders to the Ottomans in 1453 in Order to Buy Time to Buy Time to Start a Crusade and Recapture it, 15th Century


The Interviews         

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First of all, I shall introduce the 3 different interesting individuals that will be interviewed for this article, and although they may come from different parts of the world with their own different stories and world-views especially on how they see and want to share this rich history, they share a common passion for Byzantine history. The first of the interviewees is Flavian the Historian, a young Byzantine history enthusiast, artist, and influencer who had sharing and promoting knowledge on Byzantine history through his Instagram account (follow him on Instagram @flavianthehistorian) for more than a year now, and earlier on this year when I just started out with my own Byzantine history account similar to his, he was one of the first ones I followed and in return followed me due to having similar ideas, and on the other hand other he also shares engaging Q&As on his stories while he too has a number of interesting artworks on Byzantine historical figures which includes his drawing of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI in which I included in chapter XII, the grand finale of my series.

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Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, art by Flavian the Historian

The second of the interviewees is Akitku (follow him on Instagram @akitku), another artist who does a lot of medieval era including Byzantine themed artworks and has also published the Crusades era fan fiction comic book Brothers’ Keepers’, and for many months I have also followed him on Instagram as he never fails to come up with interesting artwork whether medieval Western European or Byzantine, while I have also included some of his artworks in chapters III, VII, and VIII of my series such as his illustration of Constantinople’s Hippodrome and the chariot racing factions, his Emperor Justinian I the Great illustration, and General Bardas Phokas illustration.

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Chariot racing at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, art by Akitku

The 3rd and final of the interviewees is no other than the illustrator of both the recent Byzantine era graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale and 1821: The Beginning of a Revolution Chrysavgi Sakel (follow her on Instagram @chrysasakel). Although she says she isn’t very much knowledgeable about Byzantine history, she comes from a country where the Byzantine legacy is very strong which is Greece, while she has also done many Byzantine themed illustrations both for her graphic novels and for the Youtube channel Eastern Roman History.

Now, as for how the interviews will work, I will post each question separately and below them will be each of their own responses to the respective 3 questions, and once these 3 questions and each of their answers are done, I will move on to the bonus question in which each of the 3 interviewees will be given their own different question.

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The Hagia Sophia’s interiors from Theophano: A Byzantine Tale, art by Chrysa Sakel

The Questions

1) In our present day, where can you still see the influence of the Byzantine Empire?

Flavian: In our present day we can still see the influence of the Byzantine Empire on the territories that it once ruled over, and especially in the region of Southeastern Europe. With the castles, the great walls around cities like Constantinople or Thessaloniki, and also the Byzantine churches and monasteries. These are the direct material heritage from the Byzantine Empire, but we have also immaterial heritage like the famous Byzantine chants that are still sung in the Orthodox Church. There is also the Byzantine art that is preserved by the Orthodox. There are a lot of things that are coming from the Byzantine Empire and I can’t cite all of them. The Byzantine Empire conserved and passed on the rich Greco-Roman culture, which had a very important influence on the Western civilization. Indeed, with the fall of the empire, the savants fearing the Ottomans fled to the west with the knowledge that the Byzantines had preserved and thus they participated to the Renaissance. As the Empire of Christ, Byzantium evangelized the Slavs, who are indebted to it for the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet, and the Orthodox faith is still present today. In Italy, Ravenna owes to Byzantium its famous basilicas with their sparkling mosaics, while Genoa and Venice have inherited Byzantium’s diplomatic genius.   

Akitku: To me, the Byzantine influence can be seen in historic architecture in many countries around the Mediterranean: Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Southern Italy, Israel, and Syria. Byzantine architecture also influenced the art and architecture of other cultures. The Cyrillic alphabet is another Byzantine legacy and is still used in much of Eastern Europe. Also, many public institutions such as state-funded public hospitals, universities, bureaucratic records, and attempts at legal transparency took place in Byzantium earlier than they did in Europe, and I think they might have been a strong influence for Western states, which is completely unknown or ignored.  

Chrysa: It can be seen almost everywhere around me since I live in a country with a heavy “Byzantine” legacy. The vernacular Romaic written in the Epic poem “Digenes Akrites” isn’t much different from the modern Greek spoken today in my country. Most of the religious celebrations like Easter are celebrated in the same manner as centuries ago. Our traditional Greek dances and music have a lot of influences from the “Byzantine” period. Many traditional Greek recipes come from that time too.

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The Byzantine Legacy- The Land Walls of Constantinople

2) Do you think the history of Byzantium deserves more attention and awareness all over the world such as in being made into popular movies or series?

Flavian: I think that yes, the Byzantine Empire deserves way more attention, because of its big role and influence on the Western civilization. Now, making movies and series about it, I am not opposed, I would really like to see a movie about Justinian, or Basil II for example! But now, I’m fearing that there could be some derivatives where they are historical inaccuracies, or that the movie will be objectively bad and thus making a bad advertising on Byzantium. But I hope that something like that will not happen, and I would really like to see a good series about this topic!    

Akitku: I think it would be great if people learned more about the Byzantine Empire, especially about its developments and culture, not just its start and fall.

Chrysa: Definitely. I think right now Byzantium is on a steady path towards getting more and more historical attention. It’s very important to communicate the idea of the Roman legacy. To make a wider audience understand that the Romans actually survived and have a long medieval history that ends in the 15th century. This could make Byzantine history more catchy to a wider audience. Maybe then, we’ll be able to watch some really exceptional movies and series set in the medieval Roman era.

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The Byzantine Imperial Palace Complex of Constantinople, art by Ediacar

3) What are the greatest life lessons you have learned from the history of Byzantium?

Flavian: In the history of Byzantium, we can find all the different lessons in life. Because of course of its long history, and so there is a big variety of life lessons. Now, if I have to cite some of them when I think specifically about Byzantium, I would say that you must know how to combine strength and spirit. The mastery of letters with the mastery of weapons. You must have one same coin with two faces. The one face is the material domain, and the other the spiritual domain. You can’t have the one without the other, unless you want to become a monk, where you have to be entirely devoted to the spiritual domain. But on a greater scale, you can see that those two characteristics are present, especially on the Byzantine Empire! And I think that’s one of the reasons for its great longevity. 

Akitku: I think one of the main lessons from Byzantium is that internal divisions and corruption can lead to the destruction of great and culturally advanced communities. I think that it also shows that an advanced culture provides protection and help to its weakest members (the poor, orphans, etc.), in many ways I think this made the Byzantine Empire rather unique.

Chrysa: I wouldn’t say I am knowledgeable of Byzantine history. But one thing that comes to mind about the history of Byzantium is that whenever a person wants to achieve something, it doesn’t matter who they are, they will achieve it. Someone may say that the political system allowed it but still we have seen peasants becoming emperors, eunuchs controlling the empire, and women taking charge of a male dominated empire. So in our much evolved today’s society I believe it’s up to everyone to legally follow their dreams and make them true.

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Byzantine court life from Theophano: A Byzantine Tale, art by Chrysa Sakel

Bonus Questions

How do you feel about young people such as yourself being fascinated with and promoting the history of Byzantium?

Flavian: I am very glad to see that the Byzantine Empire is still fascinating those young people, and that we are not alone! Especially on our times, where sadly the majority of young people pass their time to do things that are useless, that doesn’t improve them culturally and intellectually. That’s why I’m very proud of those young historians who are being fascinated with the Eastern Roman Empire and are promoting it! They are transmitting this rich and precious knowledge to others, and in this way, they are keeping the flame of the Byzantine Empire burning, as if it had not been extinguished since the fall of Constantinople on the tragic day of May 29, 1453.

If the Byzantine Empire survived up to this day, how would things be like?

Akitku: This is something I wonder about quite a lot. I think it sort of depends on how it would survive, for example how much of it would survive in terms of geography. But overall, I think it would maintain its character as a blend of East/ West. I assume that Orthodox religion would still play an important role in its identity though I don’t think it would be a religious state. More like modern Greece, I think it would be a secular state in which the Orthodox Church would still be significant culturally. I imagine it would be advanced but also quite classical in terms of art and education.    

If there was one thing you would want to change in Byzantine history, what would it be?

Chrysa: I would probably try to stop the beginning of the Iconoclasm. So many invaluable works of art were lost during that time just like after the 4th Crusade. I think if Iconoclasm did not happen, everything that came later would be totally different, including the Crusades.


 

Behind the Chapters- My Personal Journey Writing the 12-Part Series       

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Since early 2019 I have already been writing Byzantine era articles for my own site which is this one, however I have never come across writing an alternate history story relating to Byzantine history the entire time I have been doing blogs on Byzantine history. From 2019 to 2020 I have written numerous articles on Byzantine emperors, culture, society, warfare, fashion, travel destinations such as Constantinople and Ravenna, and even cuisine, however it was when I came across writing all these said topics when I began thinking of doing something different, thus I thought of coming up with what if kinds of stories for Byzantine history. Now, even before I have started becoming passionate about Byzantine history in 2019, I have already been fascinated with what if kinds of stories especially if it had to do with history like Roman history, as before getting into the history of Byzantium, I was very much interested in its predecessor the Roman Empire. Additionally, in 2020 I have discovered the Youtube channel Dovahhatty and his series the Unbiased History of Rome, in which its name is very misleading and it is true enough a very biased but still very fun series of Roman history from Rome’s founding in 753BC up to the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century told through memes and animation, and it was through this series that I was soon enough inspired to write an alternate history series for the history of Byzantium.

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Icon of Dovahhatty

It was in December of 2020 when the idea first came into my head to do an entire alternate history series, though not for the history of Rome, but for the history of its successor the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, although it was particularly one of Dovahhatty’s videos which was Episode XVII- Imperial Wrath of his Unbiased History of Rome that got me inspired to do a kind of alternate history fan fiction. This particular episode was set in the 4th century history of the Roman Empire, which I would already consider part of Byzantine history, as I would mark the history of Byzantium’s beginning with the establishment of Constantinople by Roman emperor Constantine I the Great in 330, while this video took place after Constantine I’s death in 337 thus focusing on the following events with its climax being the death of the Western Roman emperor Valentinian I in 375 from a stroke caused by his own anger followed by a massive migration of the Goths from the north resulting in war with the Romans leading to a catastrophic Roman defeat at the Battle of Adrianople in 378.

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Roman defeat to the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople, 378

When carefully watching this video over and over again, it made me come to think that if the emperor Valentinian I in 375 did not die out of his own anger, then perhaps he would have been around to defeat the Gothic invasion of the Roman Empire that happened after his death in reality, as true enough Valentinian I was a strong and capable warrior emperor who would have enough experience in fighting barbarians in order to fully beat the Gothic invasion unlike his brother Emperor Valens who in real history tried to crush the Goth’s invasion but failed dying at the Battle of Adrianople. After thinking of this particular what if scenario, I eventually came to think that there would be a lot of others in the following centuries after the 4th that I could do what if stories on, thus I eventually came to conceptualize two other what if kinds of stories in Byzantine history with one being in the 5th right after the first story, and the other in the 13th century.

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Logo of my channel- No Budget Films

In addition, from October to December of 2020, I have also been doing a 3-part Byzantine history audio epic for my Youtube channel No Budget Films which was the 57 Years: Byzantium in Exile set in the 13th century during the 57 years (1204-1261) when the Byzantine Empire temporarily vanished as the 4th Crusade took over Constantinople, and when doing this audio epic series (watch episodes here), I also came to conceptualize an alternate history scenario taking place in that era. Before 2020 came to an end, I then finally came to decide that for 2021 I would do a series wherein each of the 15 centuries of Byzantine history gets its own alternate history story, and since there are 12 centuries in Byzantine history (4th to 15th), I had decided to come up with 12 different stories, as after all I came to realize that the best way to tell the story of Byzantium is to tell it per century, while each century in Byzantine history too is a story of a different ruling dynasty. It was then in January of this year when I finally decided what each of the 12 stories would be including the what if scenario, and in addition it was also right when this year began when I launched my Byzantine history Instagram account Byzantine Time Traveler wherein I was at first reluctant to start one, but when starting it I got the hang of it to the point of already putting my life into it, and though I had quite a steady although hopeful start with quite a small following and a lot to expect in the next months to come, I just began with posting old photos of different Byzantine era travel destinations that I have been to including Constantinople (Istanbul) and Ravenna with very short and simple captions. However, the moment I launched my Byzantine history Instagram and began writing for the first chapter for my new series, everything changed, and thus there was no going back as for the next 8 months, I would experience a very interesting and meaningful although very challenging journey especially when it came to promoting my Byzantine history content online and trying to get the people I am close to be aware of it. On the other hand, from January of this year onwards I would also come across many things I would call external elements beyond the chapters I wrote and this would include movies and series I have watched, places I have travelled to, people I met whether physically or online, and so much more which added to the inspiration in writing the 12 chapters of my series. Not to mention, as I was in the process of writing my 12-part alternate history series, I was also doing an additional project which was the continuation of my Youtube audio epic from last year, in which this year’s continuation series The Last Roman Dynasty would also cover Byzantine history from the 13th to 15th centuries although not told as an alternate history story, but still it was also quite a challenge as my mind would be on two different eras of Byzantine history at the same time until my alternate history series which I worked on much faster would catch up with the era my audio epics were set in.  

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Constantinople in the Byzantine era artwork, artist unknown

           

For my 12-part alternate history series, I thought it would be the best choice to write it in chronological form meaning that it would begin with the origins of Byzantium’s history in the 4th century and end with its fall in the 15th, thus I would chronologically go over 12 centuries in a span of 7 months. Now although the first chapter of my 12-part series was published on February 11 this year, the conceptualizing and writing process for it began about a month prior to that in January, however I still waited for an entire month to publish it as even though I fully wrote the story itself, I was still thinking of how to systemize the rest of my alternate history series while at the same time I was also busy laying the foundations for my Byzantine history account which was progressing quite slowly only reaching 100 followers by the end of January, then at the beginning of February I also created my own Facebook page for my Byzantine history Instagram account.

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Theophano: A Byzantine Tale graphic novel by Spyros Theocharis

On the other hand, for the first 3 weeks of this year I was reading the new Byzantine era graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale (2020) that I was so excited about, which was true enough a very fascinating read that I even made a review on for my site (read it here) which included my own fan casting for the novel’s characters, and luckily for me the creators even shared it on their Instagram and Facebook page. The article that I made reviewing the graphic novel was then the very first one I published for this year, even before publishing the first chapter of my alternate history series, and at the same time I also created my first Byzantine history themed artwork by the end of January which was a chart of the structure of the late Roman military from the late 3rd to 6th centuries, which was surprisingly a very great hit on the Facebook groups I shared it to that it in fact got hundreds of shares which I only discovered months after I first shared it, and true enough this drawing of mine is one of the first results you see on Google images when searching “Late Roman Military Structure”. This drawing would then also be used as a guiding illustration for the first 3 chapters of my alternate history series as these first 3 chapters prominently featured the late Roman army which is the drawing’s main subject. What then took long for me to publish the first chapter happened to be the system of my alternate history series, but at the end I still finalized how the system would be like wherein each story has its own alternate history scenario wherein they do not continue to the next chapter, but rather each chapter begins with events that took place in real history and will only be altered as the story progresses.

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The Byzantine chi-rho symbol

The first chapter would then already begin the system I would use for the next 12 ones wherein each chapter and its sections begin with the Byzantine Empire’s chi-rho symbol, a disclaimer at the beginning, optionally a quote from the era the respective chapter is set in, the Byzantine Empire’s flag and maps at the intro section, links to my social media accounts and other related articles, related videos, and images wrapped into the texts of the paragraphs as well as features of artworks relating to the respective century the chapter was set in by various online artists in which already began in chapter I. Another thing I have done for my series’ first chapter that would then be a standard for the next 11 chapters would be my own illustrations of the leading characters for each story- in which I was inspired by the Theophano graphic novel which begins the story with illustrations of the story’s leading characters- though the one for the first chapter featured a total of 27 character illustrations as true enough the story featured so many characters including Western and Eastern Romans and Greuthungi and Thervingi Goths wherein the characters’ background colors depended on the country/ empire they came from.

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Sample of the Byzantine Alternate History chapters’ character illustrations

As for the first chapter’s story, I would say it was quite simple to write it as most of it basically just featured battle sequences while its setting being the 4th century was not a really complicated one considering that the century’s story basically only focuses on the Roman Empire and its neighbors in which they never really had much of except for the powerful Sassanid Persian Empire to its east and the Germanic tribes such as the Goths in the north which here were being chased west into migrating into the Roman Empire’s borders by the westward expansion of a new mysterious enemy, the Huns. When writing the first chapter, I also set a standard for my series which was in giving a background and context to the story’s setting, although for the first chapter I wrote the background in a very simple way just to mention Constantinople’s and therefore the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire’s establishment by Emperor Constantine I the Great in 330, the aftermath of his death in 337, the origins of the Goths in Central Europe and the spread of the Arian Christian faith from the Roman Empire to the land of the Goths, and the rise to power of the general Valentinian in 364 who then became emperor of the western half of the Roman Empire appointing his brother Valens as the emperor of the eastern half based in Constantinople.

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Western Roman emperor Valentinian I (r. 364-375)

Now the main premise for the first chapter’s story wherein I was inspired by Dovahhatty’s video was to have the western emperor Valentinian I who in real history died in 375 from a stroke caused by his own anger escape death and live long enough to see the massive Gothic migration into the Roman Empire in the following year (376) in which he was not alive to see happen and possibly stop it and save the empire from breaking apart. True enough for the story’s climax I had Valentinian survive 375 although only meet up with his brother and eastern co-emperor Valens in 378 when the war between the Roman Empire and the invading Goths was already in full-scale. For chapter I however, the main highlight I really put a lot of attention to in writing was really the action scenes wherein I wrote its climax being the 378 Battle of Adrianople as a massive epic battle in this story with both brothers Emperors Valentinian and Valens teaming up together with their respective Eastern and Western Roman armies against the hordes of the Gothic king Fritigern and his toughest warriors. At the same time, I also included as many named characters as I could for this chapter’s epic battle and these included notable Romans of this time including Arbogast, Stilicho, and Theodosius despite them not yet rising to prominence by the time of the Battle of Adrianople in 378, while another thing I did here for experimenting was in blending in an entirely fictional character into the historical setting which here was the female Gothic warrior Valdis.

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Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395), last emperor of a united Roman Empire, art by myself

Although chapter I was more or less plainly an action epic story without much depth, I also thought of adding a few elements of drama and betrayal such as an entirely fictional scenario of the future Roman emperor Theodosius I- who in real history came to power in 379- betray Rome and join forces with the Goths feeling he would gain greater power with the Goths, while also since I began writing this chapter shortly after season 3 of the Netflix series Cobra Kai was released, I put in a few references to the show in the story considering that both had the same kind of action epic genre in common. Now for the endings, I always end each chapter with the side of the Romans (Byzantines) winning despite them losing in real history, thus chapter I ended with a Roman victory at the Battle of Adrianople, although I ended the story discussing possible outcomes from this Roman victory in which I just chose to keep the question hanging. When the entire article was finished and published on February 11, I immediately shared it on social media considering that this era where the story was set in which is the Late Roman era is a popular one more so compared to later centuries in Byzantine history, thus it received quite positive feedback especially in the Late Roman Group on Facebook where one commented saying the idea of Valentinian surviving and living up to 378 to beat the Goths was a good and interesting idea no one has ever thought of considering that Valentinian was a strong warrior emperor that rarely lost battles against barbarians, however chapter I also got some mixed feedback as when I shared it in the comments of the channel Eastern Roman History in his video about the Valentinian Dynasty, someone commented saying that in a way my article was not professional enough as it quoted the rather comedic parody historian Dovahhatty, which was quite hilarious. With the first chapter completed, I then felt that there was no more going back and so the rest of my Byzantine journey continued, both in social media and my blogs.

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Visual guide to the Late Roman army’s structure, art by myself
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Goths settling in the Roman Empire, 376
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Late Roman era legionnaires in battle
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Defeat of the Romans to the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople, 378

Right when conceptualizing chapter I’s story, I was already conceptualizing what I would write for chapter II, and even before writing the series I already knew what story the 2nd chapter would feature, again thanks to Dovahhatty. Chapter II’s what if scenario was then inspired by Dovahhatty’s finale The Fall of Rome which was Episode XIX of his Unbiased History of Rome series, which was a rather unknown scenario in the 5th century history of Rome regarding a secret letter which in real history was discovered thus leading to the death of the dying Western Roman Empire’s last strong and competent emperor Anthemius in 472, and afterwards leading to the collapse of Western Rome just 4 years later (476), an event everyone who basically does not know about Byzantium remembers as the fall of Rome. Although between the completion of chapter I and the beginning of writing chapter II, I had another Byzantine history project ongoing which was the first video for my new 2021 series The Last Roman Dynasty for my Youtube channel, thus the challenge here was shifting my mind between the 5th century where the 2nd chapter of my alternate history series was set in and the late 13th century where this video (Part I: Michael Palaiologos’ Imperial Restoration) was set in, although luckily I have already written the script for this video back in January before even writing the first chapter, and thus between publishing chapter I and II, I uploaded this 43-minute video being the first for this audio epic series which is still ongoing up to now.

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Flag of the Western Roman Empire, 395-476

When writing the second chapter, true enough I wrote its background and most of the story’s main part with such great speed as I already knew the history of the 5th century Roman Empire very well due to both taking notes in advance based on other videos of this era including time-lapse videos on the fall of Western Rome in the 5th century and of course memorizing it after watching Dovahhatty’s Fall of Rome over and over again. It was also here when doing Chapter II wherein I first came across the history related Youtube channel Thersites the Historian which I would then use as a reference for the rest of the entire series up to the end, as his videos do indeed explain the complicated parts of history including the reigns of each and every Byzantine emperor up to the 11th century in complete detail, thus for chapter II it proved to be such a great help.

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Western Roman and Foederati (barbarian allied) soldiers, 5th century

For chapter II, it was also easier as I just used the same formula I used for chapter I, while I again did the individual character illustrations for the story’s main characters, although unlike in chapter I wherein I did a complete set of 27 character illustrations, for chapter II I only did 20 which was still a lot, as unlike in the previous chapter, chapter II did not have all these characters all have a big role at the same time but rather in different time settings, as chapter I’s story basically just focused on a time setting from 375 to 378, whereas chapter II covered the entire 5th century up to the 460s in its background section to establish the rise of the Germanic barbarians and the rapid decay of the Roman Empire due to the barbarian migrations and invasions, the permanent split of the Western and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empires in 395 after the death of Theodosius I who was the last emperor of a united Roman Empire, political instability in the Western empire, the apocalypse being the invasion of Attila the Hun and how it just faded away, and the last days of Western Rome wherein the Germanic barbarians basically just won and sought to destroy the empire both from within and beyond. On the other hand, the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire was at relative peace for most of the 5th century that they managed to survive the threat of Attila; thus, the Byzantines do not have much of an exciting story until the latter part of the 5th century. For me, I personally find the 5th century one of the most interesting in Byzantine history which is why I ranked it as 2nd place in my article of ranking the centuries- with the 10th century as first place- and due to my strong interest in this century which is however not a very much popular one in Byzantine history, I put a lot of attention into writing chapter II.

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Emperor Leo I (Leo Marcellus) of the Eastern Roman Empire (r. 457-474)

Chapter II was then another action-packed epic story where its main part then took place beginning the 460s when both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires are controlled by powerful barbarian generals acting as kingmakers wherein the emperors are just puppets to them whereas the east is practically ruled by the Gothic general Aspar who was the power behind the 3 consecutive eastern emperors Theodosius II (r. 408-450), Marcian (450-457), and Leo I (457-474) while the west is ruled by the Gothic general Ricimer, the undefeatable puppet-master. However, in the east, Aspar’s puppet Leo I turns out to have no desire of being a puppet and while he sent his friend and once rival, the Eastern Roman Anthemius to the west to rule it as his puppet emperor, Anthemius still falls under the influence of the powerful Ricimer in which both become each other’s enemy. This chapter too features the unexpected rise of the Germanic Vandals from a small tribe to the masters of the Mediterranean in only a few decades under their king Genseric that they were in fact able to seize the Roman fleet, sack Rome in 455, control most of the Mediterranean, and defeat the combined fleet of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires numbering up to 1,000 in 468.

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Emperor Anthemius of the Western Roman Empire (r. 467-472)

At this very chaotic time, the Vandal king Genseric also acts as a kingmaker to the failed state of the Western Roman Empire, and as Genseric pressures Leo I of the east to recognize his own Roman puppet Olybrius as Western emperor, as the Eastern emperor had the power to make a Western emperor being his puppet a legitimate one, Leo soon enough breaks free from Aspar’s influence and kills Aspar finally becoming an independent emperor and thus saving the Eastern Roman Empire from falling to barbarian influence and allowing it to survive, while he also encouraged his Western puppet Anthemius to do the same, thus Leo pretends to accept Genseric’s demands to make Olybrius the western emperor, though in fact Leo had happened to send a secret letter to kill both Olybrius and Ricimer and thus save Anthemius and the Western Roman Empire. In real history, Ricimer intercepts the letter in advance, proclaims Olybrius as his new puppet emperor, and murders Anthemius who he began to believe was too independent and could not be controlled. In this alternate history story however, Anthemius gets the letter in advance and kills both Ricimer and Olybrius, thus the Western Roman Empire continues to live on but at a cost, as my alternate history story would discuss a possibility of a world war before it was even a thing to erupt between the Eastern and Western Romans against a united coalition of barbarian tribes considering that the 5th century was the era of the rise of the barbarian powers.

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

Chapter II did also feature interesting characters of this era including the Isaurian general Zeno who was Leo I’s successor who may have been unpopular due to his heritage of coming from a mountain tribe in Asia Minor but at the end in real history saves the Eastern Empire from falling to barbarians like the west did in 476, while in the alternate history version Zeno too succeeds Leo and takes part in the fictitious world war all while the Western Roman Empire too lives beyond 476 in the story. Now I also have to admit that it was chapter II that I enjoyed writing a lot that when writing it, I got so immersed into the world of the Late Roman Empire, although on the negative side the era this chapter was set in barely had online images relating to it making this chapter be the one in the entire series with the least images, however this made me immerse more into the time setting as without the images, I basically had to imagine life back then, while also the what if I chose was a very obscure one compared to maybe writing an alternate history story in this era wherein Rome does not get sacked by the Vandals in 455, however the more obscure what if story made me enjoy writing it even more. Chapter II was then completed and published on February 28 and shared on social media 2 days later, and the most memorable part was that I completed and shared this chapter not at home or nearby but while I was on a road trip at a very remote place which then lasted for more than a week, and because of finishing this chapter while on a trip, my mind throughout the trip was still in the 5th century setting.  

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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD
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Roman Empire 5th century map, dissolution of the west (red).
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Fall of the Western Roman Empire, the last emperor Romulus Augustus surrenders to Odoacer, 476

For chapter III of Byzantine Alternate History, I then had a completely different approach as this was the first story to be written in collaboration with another Byzantine history fan, and this was Justinianus the Great (follow her on Instagram @justinianusthegreat) who I have known since the very first weeks of doing my Byzantine history Instagram, and not too long after we got to know each other, we already chatted a lot about Byzantine history to the point of doing a role playing wherein we travelled back in time and played different Byzantine era characters.

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

Although the 3rd chapter of the alternate history series was published on March 22, the conceptualizing process for it including the role-playing with Justinianus where we went back to the 6th century whereas she played the influential Byzantine emperor Justinian I the Great and I played other characters through Instagram chat started out back in January, though the role play chat itself went on for about 2 months! This character role playing through Instagram chat did in fact occur for so long that I was able to publish 3 articles being my review on the Theophano novel, chapter I and II of the series, and one video for my channel. However, the writing process for the 3rd chapter only began in mid-March after coming back from the same road trip wherein I finished chapter II while the role playing on Instagram chat was still ongoing as well, and luckily before writing chapter III, Dovahhatty released his own episode on Justinian the Great (Unbiased History: Byzantium II- Justinian the Great), which was indeed such a great help to writing the 3rd chapter as the story for the chapter which was about the influential Justinian the Great was to be a very complex one that so many books and videos have had their own take of it. In addition, other than Dovahhatty’s video on Justinian, the same channel Thersites the Historian was of great help in explaining the situation of the 6th century and so was the History of Byzantium Podcast by Robin Pierson, although Dovahhatty made the story plain and simple enough in order to put it all into one story as after all the reign of Justinian I (527-565) was not only long but very eventful.

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

The role-playing chat with Justinianus meanwhile did serve as the basis for the fictional part of the story especially on Justinian’s life that history does not record, therefore we made up some parts of his life including his thoughts and personality for the story through the role-playing. As for the story of chapter III, a lot of the same locations, characters, and themes from chapter II still continued- although not the alternate history outcome- as the time jump between chapter II and chapter III was in fact very short, and true enough chapter III’s lead character Justinian I was born in 482 just 6 years after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire (476), while other characters in chapter III were in fact still alive back when the Western Roman Empire was existing. Due to the relatively short time jump from chapter II to III, some of the same characters from chapter II such Emperor Zeno and the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great returned for the background part chapter III, as well as the Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths, although the one power that was mostly left out in the previous two chapters was the Sassanid Persian Empire in the east, and only in chapter III did they begin having a major role in the story, as true enough it was only in the 6th century when the Sassanids again began to be a bigger threat to the Romans as while Justinian I ruled Eastern Rome, the Sassanids had a ruler equally as ambitious as him which was Khosrow I.

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Emperor Justinian I and Empress Theodora at the imperial court

Another new feature chapter III had was that it was the first time in the series which from here on the word “Byzantine” would be used referring to the Eastern Romans, and this was due to the Western Roman Empire falling in 476, however the term may be incorrect as the Byzantines even after the fall of Western Rome in 476 never called themselves “Byzantine” but still continued calling themselves “Romans” and only in the 16th century after Byzantium fell was the term “Byzantine” only first used to refer to them. However, since the series was called “Byzantine Alternate History”, and also for the sake of not confusing viewers, I chose to stick to referring to the Eastern Romans from chapter III in the 6th century onwards as “Byzantines”. Now the big challenge for chapter III was to put all the spectacular events in Justinian I’s reign into one story, thus chapter III would then become the longest so far that I have written considering that it covered Justinian’s wars against the Sassanids, Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths that he never fought in personally despite the Byzantines taking back North Africa, Italy, and Southern Spain, while it also featured the Nika Riots of 532 that almost destroyed Constantinople if it were not for Justinian having it brutally put down, the spectacular careers of his generals like Belisarius and Narses, the codification of Roman laws, the construction of many notable landmarks like the Hagia Sophia, the Plague of Justinian that almost brought the empire down killing thousands each day, and the hidden story of how Justinian acquired silkworms from China using these smuggled silkworms to begin manufacturing silk in Byzantium. With all these events taking place in one story, it was then set to be a very spectacular one that was not only an action story but one with a lot of drama, intrigue, and overall a larger-than-life figure which was Emperor Justinian I the Great.

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Flavius Belisarius, Byzantine general in Justinian I’s reign, art by Amelianvs

The writing process of chapter III was then something very engaging and memorable especially when putting all these legendary historical figures like Emperor Justinian I, his wife Empress Theodora, the generals Belisarius and Narses, the finance minister John the Cappadocian, the jurist Tribonian, the Sassanid emperor Khosrow I, the Ostrogoth king Totila, and Justinian I’s nephew and successor Justin II into one story, while just like in chapter I and II wherein I blended fictional characters into the historical setting wherein in chapter I it was the female Goth warrior Valdis and the assassin/ soldier Cyriacus in chapter II who was the one made up for the story to carry the secret letter to Anthemius, while in chapter III the made up character was a general named Andreas who was made to join in Belisarius’ campaigns and later encourage Justinian himself to take part in the campaign to put Italy back under Roman rule, and this character Andreas was created in the role-playing chat with Justinianus wherein I played as Andreas, however he would also be the last made up character to be blended into a historical setting for the entire series.

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The Plague of Justinian, 542

Now the alternate history scenario for chapter III had a lot to do with the deadly plague of 542 that Justinian himself was a victim of, although in the story Justinian would end up using the plague as an act of biological warfare which he would use against the Sassanids in the east by sending over plague victims there to spread the plague and destroy their empire in order to focus on his dream of reconquering the lost Roman west. Other than the plague, the other fan fiction part of the story was in having the old emperor Justinian himself join his military campaign to recapture Italy from the Ostrogoths, and in the story Justinian being depressed over the death of his wife Theodora in 548 would go himself to Italy to get a sense of purpose again, though on the other hand the other part the story wanted to explore was to have Justinian properly train his successor, his nephew Justin II as in real history Justin II succeeded his uncle in 565 following his death without any proper training in running an empire, though in this story what would be different would be that Justin would join his uncle Justinian in his Italian campaign to train to be a strong ruler like his uncle.

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

True enough the story ended happily with Justin II succeeding his uncle in 565, and with the Sassanid Empire no longer around things would be much easier for him especially in focusing on the reconquest of the west, unlike in real history where Justin II inherited from his uncle a very massive empire covering the entire Mediterranean that proved to be too difficult to hold together. Indeed, the 6th century was a very challenging time with the Byzantines reconquering Roman lands lost to barbarians all while they were being pressured by the Sassanids in the east and by a deadly plague, and even though Justinian I achieved his dream in the end, it still cost a lot as the plague and wars depopulated his empire, most especially Italy that just shortly after his death, Byzantine rule over Italy would gradually slip away to a new barbarian invader, the Lombards.

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

Just how the 6th century was a great challenge that still achieved a lot at the end, it was also a great challenge to write chapter III considering that it was longer than the previous two chapters and had so much story to tell, while chapter III did include a lot of images too. When writing the chapter though, the bigger challenge came from outside as while I was writing the chapter, I was simultaneously busy with school work as I am still in college, and it was true enough very challenging to the point of becoming quite too stressful that I had already slept so very little in the process of doing chapter III with school work combined, that it was here when I decided to take a long break from school to focus on my alternate history series, as it would be hard to balance two difficult things at the same time. Additionally, it was when writing chapter III that I started becoming more ambitious in writing my stories that my stories would not only consist of words but images that I drew, and during March when I published chapter III, this is when I began becoming serious in doing Byzantine themed artworks, wherein one I made at this time was the black and white image of Emperor Zeno, as well as the illustrations of chapter III’s lead characters and a visual genealogy for Justinian’s Dynasty. At the same time, it was during the process of writing chapter III when I began a new gimmick for my Byzantine Instagram account, and this was in posting content related to the era of my current alternate history chapter, and here since my mind was set in the 6th century, most of my Instagram posts then had a lot to do with events happening then. The challenge now at this time was in promoting my Byzantine content online, as it was here in March when I began to aggressively promote my work wherein, I have to admit it was quite a difficult time for me then as my following was basically at a standstill with very little growth, however in the long-term chapter III would turn out to be the most mentioned chapter as its story especially a mention of Justinian I kept making a comeback in the next 9 chapters of the series.

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Detailed map of the Byzantine Empire at its fullest extent under Justinian in 555 (gold)
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The Hagia Sophia, built in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian I
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Justinian I receives silkworms from monks arriving from China, 552
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Belisarius defending Rome from the Ostrogoths from 537-538, art by Amelianvs
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Guide to the Justinian Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 518-602; character illustrations and layout by myself

With chapter III completed, I then did another major Byzantine themed art project, which was a painting of Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282), as well as the 2nd episode of my audio epic series on Youtube (Part II: Michael VIII Palaiologos’ Redemption), and between publishing chapters III and IV, I made my first special edition quarter end chapter for the year which was as I mentioned earlier my interview with friends on their reactions to Byzantine era quotes. The process now between writing chapters III and IV was quite a long one with all the research through Youtube channels like Thersites the Historian and Kings and Generals, as well as Robin Pierson’s History of Byzantium Podcast, but at the same time, the process of writing chapter IV compared to chapter III was such a great relief with school work no longer in the way.

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

For me, I could really feel the change in Byzantine history when writing chapter IV, and this change for me could already be felt the moment after Justinian I’s death in 565 which I think from here on the feeling of Byzantine history begins to feel different as the late Roman era comes to an end while the dark ages begins to rise as the arrival of new enemies like the Avars, Slavs, Lombards, and the threat of the Sassanids in the east intensifying, although the Dark Ages itself is basically usually limited to Western Europe at this time and not so much to the Byzantines, however some historians mark the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Byzantine Dark Ages in the year 602 with the execution of the Byzantine emperor Maurice, the last ruler of Justinian’s dynasty and the takeover of the common soldier Phocas as emperor, wherein it would then be all downhill for Byzantium. Chapter IV would then be another new kind of phase just as it was for the Byzantines when entering the 7th century, as it was in chapter IV when I would leave the late Roman era wherein chapters I to III were set in that my mind was so focused on for the past months, and thus enter the Middle Byzantine era wherein things will drastically change, and so did the layout of the chapters as the late Roman military structure drawing of mine beginning in chapter IV was no longer in use.

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

Although when writing chapter IV, I still began with a long background section discussing the events after Justinian I’s death in 565, his successors, how the threat of the Sassanids from the east grew worse thus ending the Golden Age Justinian I left behind for Byzantium, the overthrow of Maurice and rise of Phocas, the fall of Phocas in 610 and the rise of Emperor Heraclius, the great Byzantine-Sassanid War from 602-628, the fall of the Sassanid Empire, and the rise of a new and unexpected enemy, which were the Arabs coming from the deserts of the south. The second and main part of chapter IV would then discuss Byzantium after the fall of the Sassanids and the rise of the Arabs, which then included the drastic loss of so much territory to the Arabs including Egypt and Syria, how Asia Minor would then become Byzantium’s new heartland, the formation of the Thematic System that would define the Byzantines for the next 4 centuries, and the wars with the Arabs that would also define Byzantium for the next 4 centuries as well.

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

For the lead character of chapter IV, I chose the Byzantine emperor Constans II (r. 641-668), which is quite an unlikely choice as for the 7th century the Byzantine emperor that would be the most remembered would be Constans’ grandfather Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) who was the emperor that lived long enough to see the Sassanids fall only to be replaced as a new major threat by the Arabs. It was however in Constans II’s reign when the Arab threat became real, and so did the creation of Byzantium’s Theme System, which is why I chose to make him the lead character and his reign the story’s main setting. The alternate history scenario for the 4th chapter was then to have Constans II survive the assassination attempt on him in 668, where in real history he was killed in his bath when attempting to move the Byzantine capital to Sicily fearing that Constantinople was no longer safe especially if the Arabs attacked it by sea.

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

In chapter IV, with Constans II surviving the attempt on his life, the Byzantine capital would then be temporarily moved to Sicily, although without much results, thus this would be the first chapter wherein the what if would not really be useful to the Byzantine protagonists at the end, however chapter IV would end with the epic battle being the first Arab Siege of Constantinople from 674-678 wherein Constans’ son and successor Emperor Constantine IV successfully defended Constantinople due to the invention of a Byzantine superweapon which was Greek Fire, though in the story Constans II had lived long enough to come to Constantinople’s rescue during the siege wherein everyone thought he had disappeared. In addition, chapter IV was the first one in the series to feature a multinational conflict as while the Byzantines and Arabs were at war with each other, I put a fictional scenario of a Sassanid army returning to ally with their old enemy the Byzantines against the Arabs which was their common enemy, while I also thought of giving a bigger role to Tang Dynasty China as in the 7th century as well, Constans II sent Byzantine ambassadors to Tang China to send gifts to their emperor and get some in return, although history does not record much about it, but in the story I put in a fictional part of China assisting the Byzantines against the Arabs by attacking the Arabs from behind as the Arabs did in fact expand so fast that in only a few decades since they united and rose from the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, they were able to take over all of Egypt and Syria from the Byzantines, destroy the Sassanid Empire, and reach as far as Central Asia to the east. Chapter IV was thus a turning point in the series with the rise of the Arabs as well as the new dystopian kind of setting the Byzantine Empire would be in, and it was also in the process of doing chapter IV when I began taking my Byzantine themed art much more seriously, thus for the chapter I did a black and white style drawing of its lead character Constans II, as well as an illustration of Constantinople’s land walls. Both in the timeline of the story and in the publishing date, the time jump between chapter III and IV was large, and it was on April 15 of this year when chapter IV was published, and just like chapter II, I also published chapter IV when away on a road trip.

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The Byzantine Empire in 650 (orange)
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Expansion of the Arabs, 7th century
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Map of the first original 5 Themes of Asia Minor created under Constans II
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Greek Fire used for the first time at the 674-678 Arab Siege of Constantinople
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The Land Walls of Constantinople, art by myself

Shortly after finishing chapter IV, I already began the researching and writing process for chapter V while I was also on that same road trip where I completed chapter IV. Chapter V would then see the experimental phase of the alternate history series, and a lot of this both had to do with me wanting to experiment a bit more on Byzantine history by putting a dystopian feeling into it as well as some personal factors I have been going through at this point. Chapter V was then true enough quite entertaining to write as considering that the 8th century where it is set in is the least documented century in Byzantine history while also being my personal worst and least interesting as there were fewer epic battles and the rest all internal conflicts, though the fun part was in playing around by coming up all sorts of made-up stories for the characters in this era just to simply fill in the blanks. Though the era the chapter is set in is the least interesting for me, the writing process for chapter V may have been exciting only because of all the continued wars against the Arabs and civil wars, but its end result would then be nothing more but a story of so much senseless violence including gouged out eyes and chopped off noses, graphic scenes of soldiers eating their own feces to survive the winter, imperial anarchy, tiring wars, petty characters, and the useless breaking of icons known as “Iconoclasm” which defined the 8th century history of Byzantium.

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

When writing chapter V, I began by discussing the chaos and anarchy Byzantium fell into as the 7th century came to an end, the continued expansion of the Arabs, and then getting to the 2nd Arab Siege of Constantinople from 717-718 ending with another Byzantine victory thanks to the use of Greek Fire and the intervention of new people in the north that was once Byzantium’s enemy which were the Bulgarians, while a new emperor came to power as well which was Leo III the Isaurian, one of the powerful generals of this time who put an end to Byzantium’s 22-year anarchy period that began in 695 and once again brought stability to the empire by establishing his dynasty, however to stabilize the empire once again he issued a very unpopular policy which was that of Iconoclasm or the braking of icons believing it would save the empire as he thought icons were sinful. The ban on icons however created such division among the Byzantine people wherein some supported it especially the army while many opposed it and reacted to it with such violence, but the worst part about this simple policy of breaking religious icons led to the permanent schism between the Byzantine Orthodox and the Latin Church in the west together with the rise of the Republic of Venice as well.

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Byzantine Iconoclasm under Leo III in the 8th century

The climax of chapter V however did not have to do so much with Iconoclasm but rather with a dystopian setting in the Byzantine Empire which here was on how the banning of icons affected society, thus making it quite an unique take on setting a dystopian story in Byzantine times, as dystopian style stories are usually set in modern times. The other major story in chapter V then was the family drama within the imperial family wherein the emperor’s daughter Anna even led a resistance against her father’s Iconoclasm while her brother Constantine V strongly stood loyal to his father’s policy of breaking icons. The alternate history scenario for chapter V would then regard Artavasdos, the general and son-in-law of Emperor Leo III who being married to Anna secretly opposed Leo III’s Iconoclasm, and in real history Artavasdos after Leo III’s death in 741 did rebel against Leo’s son and successor Emperor Constantine V in 742, but at the end Artavasdos still failed, and thus Iconoclasm still continued.

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Emperor Artavasdos (r. 742-743), Funko pop recreation by myself

In the alternate history scenario however, I made Constantine V lose to Artavasdos and thus making Iconoclasm ended early enough to make amends with the west that had just been alienated from Byzantium, and the reason now why I decided to focus on such a small topic for chapter V was to show that even the smallest events such as if Artavasdos won the civil war can have a major impact on history, this way by ending Iconoclasm early enough to not create a schism with the Western Church that would end up becoming permanent.

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Emperor Constantine V of Byzantium (r. 741-742/ 743-775), art by Chrysa Sakel

Overall, chapter V considering that it was mostly a gore fest story with lots of useless drama, it was still the shortest one in the series that it could have in fact been skipped altogether, however just for the sake of experimenting I chose to do an entire chapter on this unknown part of Byzantine history, while on the other hand I used chapter V to explain some of the bigger events happening at that time such as the rapid expansion of the Arabs all the way west to Spain and the beginning of the end of Byzantine rule over Italy as by the end of the 8th century, the Byzantines were left with only the south in Italy. In addition, chapter V was the second chapter that I wrote for the series wherein I wrote it in collaboration with someone, and this was with my friend Mario (follow him on Instagram @mariopuyatrewreplays) who was also one of the 5 friends I interviewed on the their take on Byzantine history earlier on, and although he isn’t very much familiar with Byzantine history, I just thought it would be a good gimmick to have someone unfamiliar with Byzantium have his own take on the story, again for the sake of experimenting.

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The Mandalorian in Byzantine armor, art by myself

Chapter V was in fact so experimental that for this chapter I even made digital artworks of not very Byzantine looking funko-pop figures for the story’s 3 leading characters Artavasdos, Anna, and Constantine V, while my Byzantine themed artworks at this time (late April to early May) have also began becoming experimental such as the one I made with the Mandalorian in Byzantine armor. Additionally, the time I was writing chapter V was more or less the low point of my Byzantine journey this year as my social media accounts (FB and IG) saw little growth, post likes and shares, while at times I would feel as if my content was being neglected that there were even some times wherein I felt like quitting the alternate history series entirely after finishing only chapter VI, and thus starting from scratch afterwards. This kind of situation I was having back then also contributed a lot into the very experimental way I wrote my stories, while at the same time the same kind of situation was ironically the same situation Byzantium was going through where I was at in writing my series which was the Byzantine dark ages, but at the end chapter V was still published on May 2 together with a series of artworks I did relating to this time period in Byzantine history which included by black and white portraits of the 6 emperors of the 22-year Byzantine anarchy (695-717). However, I soon enough overcame these obstacles and hard times through persistence and determination by using these hard times to drive me to push harder thus unleashing a competitive streak within me that would seek to post better quality posts regularly in order to survive and not slip away.  

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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, 8th century

When it all seemed that my Byzantine journey was beginning to go downhill, it eventually did not as I still chose to persevere despite all the adversities and do all it takes to get my content recognized, and after chapter V was completed, I immediately moved on to doing another project which this time was again for my audio epic series, and on May 15 not too long after chapter V was published, I uploaded the 3rd part (Part III: The Beginning of the Decline) of my audio epic series on my channel. While editing the 3rd part of my audio epic series, I also began writing chapter VI for the alternate history series, which was then not too difficult to conceptualize and begin as the story for chapter VI was basically just a direct sequel of chapter V, wherein the story of chapter VI itself is set just right after chapter V finished off while also continuing the stories and themes that were introduced in chapter V including Iconoclasm, the beginning of the “Cold War” style conflict with the Latin west, while characters from chapter V such as Emperor Constantine V too made a comeback in chapter VI with the only difference being that the alternate history scenario of chapter V wherein Constantine V lost the civil war to Artavasdos did not happen, but instead the story would begin with how things actually went in real history.

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Emperor Leo IV the Khazar of Byzantium (r. 775-780), art by Chrysa Sakel

For chapter VI, the story’s main focus was then on Irene of Athens, the daughter-in-law of Constantine V who married Constantine’s son Leo IV “the Khazar” (r. 775-780), and following Leo IV’s death in 780, Irene came to rule the empire first as regent for her son Constantine VI until she ordered his blinding in 797, wherein afterwards she became the sole empress of the Byzantine Empire, the first time a woman would rule the empire alone. As the ruler of Byzantium, Irene had the great legacy of putting an end to Iconoclasm as she strongly believed in the use of religious icons, while at the same time she was also a strong female ruler both decisive and comfortable with herself. Just like chapters III and V, chapter VI was another article in collaboration with someone, and again it was with Justinianus the Great with whom I have worked together with in creating chapter III, and originally for chapter VI, we were again supposed to do the same kind of role playing like we did for chapter III, however the role playing through Instagram chat instead became an interview with Justinianus wherein I asked her a number of questions regarding Irene as a way to come up with her personality for the story.

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Empress Irene of Athens, regent (780-797), full empress (797-802)

The alternate history scenario for chapter VI was then my own take on the popular what if of Empress Irene and Charlemagne, the newly crowned Frankish emperor marrying as an act to unite both their empires into one massive Frankish-Roman Empire. Chapter VI also had the major innovation of being written in the form of flashbacks wherein it begins off already with Irene as empress in year 800 while she narrates the events of the past such as her backstory. Chapter VI too was the first chapter in the series that equally featured Byzantium and another empire, in this case being Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire that became the new power that conquered and united most of Europe, while Byzantium here was losing in terms of power wherein their salvation could come if both rulers of these said empires married each other.

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Irene Sarantapechaina, Byzantine empress, art by myself

The writing process for chapter VI happened to be quite a fun one especially when introducing Irene’s character, the extravagance of the Byzantine imperial court, the court rituals and ceremonies, the scheming court eunuchs, the fashion styles of the time, and the journey of Irene from a small-town orphaned girl in Athens to the ruler of the Byzantine Empire. This chapter also had some experimental elements, and here it was especially in Irene’s character not only as a strong empress but as an attractive figure as this was the only chapter in the series to have a female lead character, thus for Irene I even created an experimental seductive drawing of her in a kind of dress that may have not been existing in the Byzantine era, while additionally this story was the one too with the most side stories made up just out of fun to put some more life into it.

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Charlemagne, King and Emperor of the Franks (r. 768-814), art by myself

Chapter VI was also for me a very ambitious project and for it I created a number of more detailed and intricate drawings rather than just the character illustrations for the intro, as here I came up with a full-body drawing of the story’s lead characters Irene and Charlemagne. When writing the chapter, the entertaining part was in introducing Charlemagne, and here when showing him in person, rather than introducing him as a great man even in physical form, I chose to introduce him as a tired old man feeling like his life’s mission is over as an act of downplaying the greatness he is seen having in history, however he and Irene still married- which never happened in real history- although they only marry for an alliance to join both their empires together in order to fully defeat the Bulgarian Empire. Although each chapter in the alternate history series is made per century out of the 12 centuries in Byzantium’s history, chapter VI was a hybrid one as though it is basically the chapter for the 9th century, its events were in both the 8th and 9th centuries.

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Irene and Charlemagne as husband and wife

The story’s climax however which was Irene and Charlemagne’s wedding in 802, and the battle against the Bulgarians in 811 where the story ends however is in the 9th century, though in the early part of it. With only the early years of the 9th century discussed in the chapter, it would then so happen that my alternate history series skipped an entire part of Byzantine history, which was almost the entire 9th century itself, true enough a very important time for the Byzantine Empire as this was when Byzantium would come out of the dark ages and begin rising again, while also seeing a Renaissance in the arts and academics, and the spread of Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium to the Slavs in Eastern Europe in the latter part of the century, as well as the rise of the Bulgarian Empire and the decline of Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire and the Arab Abbasid Caliphate which were at first thought to be all powerful empires that were a main threat to Byzantium.

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Flag of Irene and Charlemagne’s fictional united Frankish-Roman Empire, crossover between Byzantine (red) and Frankish (blue) flags (photo from Reddit)

However, since the chapter was basically about Irene and Charlemagne, I chose to just set the story in the early 9th century skipping the rest of the century, while at the same writing about the outcome of this marriage between Irene and Charlemagne was also confusing especially seeing how long the union of the empires would last, which therefore requires great analytical skills wherein only great historians could succeed in doing. One thing I have to mention too about this chapter’s setting and characters was that just recently I discovered a new Byzantine podcast on Empress Irene and her story, except not including Charlemagne and an alternate history of them marrying, check out Icons/Idols: Irene. On the other hand, just a few days before publishing chapter VI on May 24, I experienced one lifetime achievement, which here was getting my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and not to mention the side effects were quite strong that the sleepiness I got from it delayed the publishing of the article by 2 days!    

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Empress Irene at the palace, art by myself
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Charlemagne crowned as “Roman emperor” by Pope Leo III in Rome, 800
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Speculated map of Irene and Charlemagne’s united empire
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Guide to the Isaurian Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 717-802; character illustrations and layout by myself

Before publishing chapter VI, I was at a low point in my Byzantine history journey, however success had turned out to be found just right around the corner, as after chapter VI was completed, my Byzantine online career suddenly had an upswing, and this was seen when I created and posted a visual genealogy of the Isaurian Dynasty- the emperors from Leo III to Irene- which got a great number of shares on Facebook, while on May 29 I posted an Instagram a post commemorating the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, which also happened on that day, and this post did in fact all of a sudden get hundreds of likes and multiple shares both on IG and FB, thus making it the first time since my Late Roman Military Structure drawing in late January to get so much hits. Though at the same time as I posted this very successful post, I had already begun doing research for chapter VII’s story in which I true enough even began doing it just 2 days after publishing chapter VI. Basically, because chapter VII covered a lot of content and more than 150 years of history, it required tons of research that for almost a full week I have been going through the videos of the same Thersites the Historian on Youtube as well as listening to Robin Pierson’s History of Byzantium podcast to get some more new information on the era and put the entire story together. Now since chapter VI despite being the assigned chapter to the 9th century only featured the first few years of it as the story was supposed to be about Empress Irene and Charlemagne, I instead covered the important events of the latter 9th century in chapter VII despite it being the 10th century’s respective chapter. Since there would be so much information in chapter VII, I then chose to write it in a more concise way wherein I would condense all the events of the years from the 830s to the 980s, although to still make it in the form of a fan fiction story rather than a factual story, I chose to write chapter VII in the style of a historical parody mocking but at the same time admiring the Byzantines, especially since the 9th and 10th centuries feature Byzantium at its prime with so much to admire about from them such as their victories, military might, and extravagant court life while there is also so much to mock about them at this era such as the toxic court politics and the infamous eunuchs.

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

When writing chapter VII, I began off with the beginnings of the Byzantine Renaissance and the evangelization of the Slavs under Emperor Michael III the Amorian (r. 842-867), the rise to power of the simple peasant turned wrestler, turned emperor Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886), the continued war with the now weakened Arabs, and the rise of the major Bulgarian conflict and that of their powerful ruler Simeon the Great. Once the story hit the 10th century, the more it became detailed as personally it is my all-time favorite century in Byzantine history, and no doubt because this was the glory days of Byzantium on the rise as a military and cultural power that commanded both great respect and fear among everyone around them, thus for chapter VII I had a lot of fun writing it due to its action-packed style despite it being quite complicated as it featured too many characters, battles, locations, and foreign powers like the Bulgarians, Arabs, Rus, Khazars, Magyars, Pechenegs, and the new Holy Roman Empire in the west.

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Emperor Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912) of Byzantium

Now for chapter VII’s alternate history part, I chose to not write it like the previous 6 chapters wherein it begins with what happened in real history wherein everything will get fictional as it ends, instead I wrote it in a way wherein I just basically told it like how the story in real history was told, except to make it a fan fiction I altered a few things along the way, such as that the ruling dynasty of that time which was the Macedonian Dynasty would not actually be that dynasty, instead it would be the previous Amorian Dynasty still continued as this story went with the rumor of the Macedonian emperor Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912) not being the dynasty’s founder Basil I’s son but the son of the emperor he killed which was Michael III being the truth, thus Leo VI’s descendants as the Macedonian Dynasty would be a lie and instead his descendants would still continue ruling as the Amorian Dynasty.

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Empress Theophano of Byzantium, omitted from chapter VII

In addition, when conceptualizing the chapters I also planned to use chapter VII as a rewrite of the graphic novel “Theophano: A Byzantine Tale” that I read earlier on in the year wherein the chapter was the exact same setting as that book, but for chapter VII, I rewrote the book’s story by omitting its lead character Theophano from the real historical setting as if she did not exist at all, and at the end things would never really change until the story’s ending if she were removed, as after all Theophano was the mother of the legendary Byzantine emperor Basil II (r. 976-1025), therefore the story ended totally differently as compared to real history due to the fact that Emperor Basil II would not be around.

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

The best part for me about writing chapter VII was that it covered the most interesting Byzantine characters as the 10th century had all of them put together including the scholarly and highly cultured emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 913-959), his former co-emperor and regent Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944) who rose up the ranks to be emperor despite being also of low birth, the scheming court eunuchs Joseph Bringas and Basil Lekapenos, the powerful and ruthless general and later emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), his successor Emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976), and the other powerful generals of the era like Leo and Bardas Phokas as well as Bardas Skleros.

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Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas of Byzantium (r. 963-969), art by Spatharokandidatos

Chapter VII too featured numerous larger than life events including Nikephoros Phokas’ wars against the Arabs and the Byzantine reconquests, Greek Fire on the sea, the chaotic regency civil war for the young emperor Constantine VII from 913-920, and the all the court intrigues including the assassination of Nikephoros II Phokas in 969. When doing chapter VII, I also made a number of ambitious art projects for the same chapter including a black and white illustration of Constantine VII- which was however done weeks prior to writing the chapter- and an illustration of Emperor Leo VI and his 4 different wives, and of course the usual icon illustrations for the story’s lead characters in which for chapter VII I did 20 of them, being the first time to do this much character illustrations since chapter II, and not mention chapter VII was also the first time the intro symbol for the story changed from the Byzantine chi-rho that had been used since chapter I to the double-headed Byzantine eagle which would be the one in use until chapter XII and is used here in this post as well. Chapter VII too featured quite a lot of images as this era in Byzantine history was perhaps the one with the most historical illustrations due to one important illustrated manuscript still around up to this day which is the Madrid Skylitzes showing the 9th, 10th, and 11th century history of Byzantium in very detailed illustrations, and for both chapters VII and VIII I used a lot of images from this manuscript. Also, not to mention while in the process of writing chapter VII, I had also been balancing the hectic workload of my Byzantine Alternate History stories with re-watching all 11 seasons of Modern Family on Netflix and playing the futuristic video game Cyberpunk 2077, which seem to be so far away from Byzantium, though these things still showed that my life was still perfectly balanced between Byzantium and the real world, as I had already been comfortable where I was at in my Byzantine journey.

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Byzantine battles in the 10th century

The more impressive part too was that when writing chapter VII, the dark days of my Byzantine career which was just less than 2 months earlier seemed like it was long gone, and ironically just like the Byzantine Empire which in the same era I was at during this point of my journey was at a very high point too while I also had reached the high point of my Byzantine journey and part of this was that when I published chapter VII on June 9- not too long after publishing chapter VI- and immediately shared it on social media, I even caught the attention of the creators of the Theophano graphic novel considering that the chapter I wrote was at the same era as their book’s setting, that they asked me to be interviewed for their site which I gladly accepted (read it here). Following the completion of chapter VII, I took quite a quick break doing a road trip again, ironically going back to where I went to after chapter II was completed 3 months earlier, and during the 4 days away I mostly kept my mind out of Byzantium for the first time in a long time until returning home with some good news that my interview on the site of Byzantine Tales had been published while my recent artworks too had been shared by other Byzantine Facebook pages, and some days later I also completed the edit and uploaded the 4th part of my late Byzantine era audio epic (Part IV: Andronikos III: The Last Revival). Feeling confident of where I was at in my Byzantine journey then, I then proceeded to do the research and begin writing chapter VIII without much hesitation, although the research process for the upcoming chapter was also another great challenge as its setting being the 11th century had so much happening while having so many sources too.

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Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis

When doing the research for chapter VIII and its 11th century setting wherein the Macedonian Dynasty from chapter VII continues, I deeply immersed myself by listening to Robin Pierson’s podcasts and read the very informative non-fiction book on this era Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis, in which both turned out to be of great help for putting together the story for chapter VIII. Now if chapter VII of the series basically discussed Byzantium on the rise to power and glory, its direct successor chapter VIII was basically written as the reverse story to chapter VII as it discussed Byzantium declining from its glory days during the 11th century. Chapter VIII would then discuss the glorious reign of possibly Byzantium’s most popular emperor these days which is Basil II (976-1025) who being omitted from chapter VII as the story omitted his mother Theophano finally had a big role to set the stage for the 11th century which begins as a glorious time for the Byzantines as they finally defeated and conquered their major enemy the Bulgarian Empire to the north thus putting the entire Balkans under their rule.

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Painting of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium (r. 976-1025), art by myself

Chapter VIII though was also the last chapter in the series to feature the conflict between the Byzantines and Arabs in the east, as the 11th century saw the end of the Arab-Byzantine conflicts that began way back in the 7th century where chapter IV was set in due to the rise of another new eastern enemy, the Seljuk Turks of Central Asia. Aside from continuing in discussing the same Byzantine court politics, extravagance, and extensive military campaigns of the 10th century that continued on to the 11th century, chapter VIII also discussed the rise of new threats to Byzantium such as the Normans in the west and the Seljuk Turks in the east together with their backstories, as well as many side stories like that of the origins of the famous Nordic and Rus Varangian Guard in the Byzantine army wherein the future King of Norway Harald Hardrada served in from the 1030s-1040s and the Great Schism of 1054 which was then the permanent divide between the Byzantine and Latin Churches.

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Byzantine Cataphract cavalry soldier in the 11th century, art by myself

The climax of chapter VIII however was the catastrophic Battle of Manzikert in 1071, which was the event marking the end of Byzantium’s glory days and although it may not have really been a terrible disaster for the army, it would still result in the permanent loss of Byzantine rule over their heartland Asia Minor and the collapse of the centuries old Thematic System there that had been around since the 7th century. Now just like chapter VII, chapter VIII was written in the same kind of way wherein there was more facts than fictional elements, though only at the end do things change as the story’s what if was to have a Byzantine victory over the invading Seljuk Turks at the 1071 Battle of Manzikert, whereas in real history it was a Byzantine defeat.

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Byzantine (left) and Seljuk (right) cavalrymen clash at the Battle of Manzikert, 1071

Chapter VIII then true enough altered history by having a Byzantine victory wherein the emperor Romanos IV Diogenes would not be captured by the Seljuk Turks’ sultan Alp Arslan, however the main point of the story was to prove that it was not the Battle of Manzikert that really destroyed Byzantium in the 11th century but the corruption, betrayals, and wasteful spending in the imperial court, as well as weak leadership of emperors like Constantine X Doukas (r. 1059-1067) and Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071-1078). In the story, I also explained that even with a Byzantine victory at Manzikert, Byzantium would still be brought down from the inside through corruption, although the major difference with a Byzantine victory at Manzikert was that a lot of Asia Minor would not really be lost to the Seljuks while the First Crusade which was called for in 1095 as a result of the Seljuks’ victory at Manzikert in real history would still be called as true enough the First Crusade’s real purpose was not really to help the Byzantines recover lands lost to the Seljuks but to take back the city of Jerusalem that had also fallen to the Seljuks. While doing chapter VIII, I had also created several Byzantine themed artworks including a black and white Byzantine style inspired drawing of Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine on the Death Star II, and for chapter VIII itself I did the usual illustrations for the lead characters, but more than that, I also did a full-scale drawing of a Byzantine cataphract cavalry soldier for the story as well as a drawing of the famous future King of Norway Harald Hardrada as a Varangian Guard who had a cameo in the story as well, while I also made a genealogy for the Doukas Dynasty which ruled Byzantium in the setting of chapter VIII (1059-1081) wherein the Battle of Manzikert took place in. Chapter VIII itself was published on June 29 right before the end of the very eventful month, and unlike the Byzantine Empire that had begun going through a decline in power at this time, my own Byzantine journey’s success still remained yet continued to grow at the same time with the sudden increase of followers on Instagram, thus making June surely an eventful month.  

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Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium and his 4 wives, art by myself
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A scene of the Rus-Byzantine War of 941 from the Madrid Skylitzes
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Nikephoros Phokas enters Constantinople in 963, Madrid Skylitzes
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The Byzantine Empire (red) at its apogee, at Basil II’s death in 1025
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Painting of the fateful Battle of Manzikert between the Byzantines and Seljuks, 1071
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Byzantine- Star Wars crossover, Emperor Palpatine as a Byzantine emperor on Death Star II, art by myself
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Genealogy of the Doukas Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 1059-1081; character illustrations and layout by myself

The success of my Byzantine journey would then continue onwards after the completion of chapter VIII and this was seen with the success of new posts most notably that of my Byzantine cataphract cavalry soldier and Harald Hardrada as a Varangian Guard illustration which got a great number of likes and shares both on FB and IG, with in fact a total of 39 shares on Facebook.

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Harald III Sigurdsson “Harald Hardrada”, King of Norway (r. 1046-1066), former Varangian Guard commander in the service of Byzantium, art by myself

The month of July was then set to be a busy one for me, as not only was it the month for writing and publishing chapter IX, but it was also a busy one for posting on Instagram as it was here when I posted so much new and unique interesting content that would define my Byzantine IG account. These posts would include a 5-part series I did on Byzantium’s famous Varangian Guard and on the Armenian city of Ani in the Byzantine era in which were all successful posts, and in between publishing chapters VIII and IX, I published my article on how I rank the 12 centuries of Byzantine history from my personal best to worst which then came out on July 7 as a break article between chapters. Now the researching part for chapter IX was quite challenging as the History of Byzantium podcast by Robin Pierson had not yet reached the era of the chapter which was the 12th century, thus for research I had to turn to my old go to book for a more concise approach in telling Byzantine history which was the History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici, while also going through Wikipedia to get more information on the era and its people.

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Map of the 4 Crusader States of Outremer in 1135, during the reign of Byzantine emperor John II Komnenos

Writing chapter IX was also a challenge for me especially when getting the facts right as this era was a confusing one, although it was also exciting to write as the 12th century it was set in featured Byzantium, the now rising kingdoms of Western Europe, the Seljuk Turks, the new Crusader states in the Levant known as Outremer, the Balkans, and the Arab powers of the Middle East all coming together. Chapter IX was then really supposed to be the chapter on the Crusades as it was its era, thus chapter IX began where chapter VIII left off which was the beginning of the First Crusade which was originally called for by the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118), originally aimed in helping Byzantium drive away the Seljuks that have taken over Asia Minor since their victory at Manzikert in 1071, but at the end the Crusaders’ real intention was to take back Jerusalem from the Seljuks for themselves and not assist Byzantium recover their lost lands, and as the Crusaders succeeded in achieving their goal, they became a new neighbor to Byzantium that would be both a friend or an enemy.

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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos meets the leaders of the First Crusade, 1096

In the meantime, after sharing chapter VIII which was about Manzikert to the Alternate History Discussion Group on Facebook, I got one suggestion from a comment saying that my next chapter should have to do with the following century (12th century) about an event that could stop the catastrophic 4th Crusade of 1204, another major disaster for the Byzantines that would begin the end for their empire, thus I kind of took this comment into consideration for the 9th chapters’ alternate history topic. Originally when conceptualizing the chapters, the story of chapter IX was only supposed to be about the rather controversial Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195) wherein the story would prevent his blinding in 1195 by his older brother Alexios- who in real history blinded Isaac and took over the throne thus leading to the 4th Crusade in 1204- and if this event were to happen then this could possibly prevent the 4th Crusade from happening.

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Isaac II Angelos, Byzantine emperor (r. 1185-1195), art by myself

However, this what if scenario for chapter IX did not push through for rather complicated reasons being the first and only time in the series wherein an original idea did not push through for the chapter’s story, instead I chose to go with another what if for the 12th century, and this would have to do with identifying events that may have led to the disastrous 4th Crusade in 1204 and thinking of ways to avoid them to prevent that tragic event from happening. The story for chapter IX then covered the 3 consecutive stable and successful reigns of Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118), his son John II (1118-1143), and his son Manuel I (1143-1180) which was a total of 99 years combined, while at the same time the chapter also featured the First, 2nd, and 3rd Crusades, the rise of the Republic of Venice and the kingdoms of Western Europe including the Normans of Italy, the rise of Balkan powers like Serbia and the Kingdom of Hungary, the Seljuk Empire that had been established in Asia Minor that was there to stay, and a lot more.

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Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180), art by Justinianus the Great

For the Byzantines, most of the 12th century was another time of power and dominance over the Mediterranean where Byzantium was basically the bully of the era under the Komnenos emperors wherein the new Crusader states even became Byzantium’s vassals. However, this renewed era of power would not last as following the death of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in 1180, everything would go downhill for Byzantium, as his son and successor Alexios II Komnenos (r. 1180-1183) was still only a child, thus he was overthrown and killed by Manuel I’s cousin and strongest enemy Andronikos I Komnenos who took over the throne with a bloody massacre of Constantinople’s Latin inhabitants and later only making things worse for the empire by running the empire in a totalitarian manner. In the story, what was then changed was that before killing young Alexios II and taking over the empire, Andronikos’ plot was discovered by the loyalists of the young emperor including Isaac Angelos- who in real history was chosen by the people to seize the throne and overthrow Andronikos I- though in this story, Andronikos’ plot was discovered and thus he was blinded and exiled unlike in real history where he ruled for the next 2 years (1183-1185) until being overthrown by Isaac Angelos and executed by being brutally beaten to death by the same people that put him in power just recently.

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The young emperor Alexios II beneath the shadow of his uncle Andronikos, art by Ediacar

The climax of chapter IX then featured the same Norman invasion of Byzantine Greece in 1185 like in real history which was defeated by the Byzantines, though while the Byzantines won a major victory, they also faced a major challenge of the Bulgarians once again breaking free from Byzantine rule after being under Byzantium since Basil II’s conquest of 1018, thus the 2nd Bulgarian Empire was declared in 1185. However, in the story the young Emperor Alexios II who survives the attempt on his life carefully plans the elimination of all rivals including the leaders of the Bulgarian uprising and his exiled uncle Andronikos, thus the chapter ended in a very dramatic moment wherein the young emperor with the leader or Doge of Venice swear a sacred oath to be allies once again all while all enemies are eliminated one by one at the same time in the same style as the climax of The Godfather.

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Niketas Choniates, Byzantine historian (1155-1217), recreation of the original manuscript depicting Choniates, art by myself

The story then ended happily for Byzantium whereas the Alexios II would continue to rule with Isaac Angelos as his right-hand-man now having more experience to one day run the empire- unlike in real history where Isaac came to rule the empire despite having not much experience- and although it was a happy ending for Byzantium with Venice which Alexios II’s father Manuel made an enemy become their ally again, and with the Bulgarian uprising defeated before it could grow worse like in real history, the 3rd Crusade still did happen, but the happy ending though was that the 4th Crusade in 1204 that sacked Constantinople never took place due to Byzantium and Venice fixing their ties with each other, as Venice in real history brought the Crusaders to Constantinople to sack it, even if the Crusade was originally aimed for Jerusalem to take it back from the new Islamic power being Saladin’s Ayyubid Empire. When doing chapter IX, I also did a number of art projects for the chapter like a recreation of the manuscript depicting Niketas Choniates, one of the primary historians of the 12th century, and aside from the usual lead character illustrations for the chapter, Justinianus who previously helped in writing chapters III and VI did an illustration of chapter IX’s lead character Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in her own style. Chapter IX was then published on July 19, and only after finishing chapter IX did I do my own illustrations for the 3 Angelos emperors of Byzantium: Isaac II, Alexios III, and Alexios IV who are said to be Byzantium’s 3 worst emperors.   

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (pink) at Manuel I’s death, 1180
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Manuel I Komnenos (on a horse) at a triumphal parade in Constantinople
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Isaac II Angelos’ rise to power by beheading Andronikos I’s hitman, 1185
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Normans from Sicily invade Byzantine Greece, 1185

As chapter IX was completed and published, I quickly worked on the 5th episode of my audio-epic series (Part V: Double Disaster: Civil War and Black Death) which was uploaded before the end of July and true enough my schedule in late July and early August was a very tight one with all the art projects included.

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John III Doukas Vatatzes, Byzantine emperor in Nicaea (r. 1222-1254), art by myself

After chapter IX was completed, I immediately began working on my acrylic painting of Emperor Basil II which was to be completed on the day he defeated the 2nd Bulgarian Empire (July 29), while at the same time I was also working on my drawing on the 3 Angelos emperors, and lastly a black and white illustration of Emperor John III Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254), who would be the lead character for chapter X. The time for writing chapter X too was a tight one, but luckily before writing I already knew a lot of information for the era the chapter was to be set in which was the 13th century in which I have been making many Lego films including audio epics of it in the past, while I was lucky here also since the Youtube channel Kings and Generals had also published some videos regarding that era earlier on. When writing chapter X, I then wrote it with such speed but again as I already knew the events of the time, it was not so much of a challenge to write, however the challenging part of writing it was its very confusing story, as this chapter covered the 4th Crusade of 1204 which temporarily ended the Byzantine Empire and fractured the area of the Byzantine Empire into so many different states both Latin and Byzantine Greek. Although for chapter IX I gave a more positive image to the controversial Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos, for chapter X however where he returns, I returned to portraying him as he is usually portrayed in history as an incompetent and corrupt ruler while his dynasty was even much worse that their bad leadership would eventually lead to the army of the 4th Crusade arriving before Constantinople’s walls in 1203.

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4th Crusade army storms Constantinople’s walls, 1204

Chapter X’s main highlight then was the tragic betrayal and fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade’s Western European army in 1204 which led to the victorious Crusaders carving up Byzantine lands and dividing it among themselves while looting tons of precious Byzantine treasures and relics taking them back to Europe, though the Byzantines that survived it had formed their own successor states such as the Empire of Nicaea, Empire of Trebizond, and Despotate of Epirus, while in the north the absence of Byzantium allowed the newly proclaimed 2nd Bulgarian Empire to grow. The confusing part about chapter X was in combining all these post-1204 successor states and the constant fighting among them into one story, however the what if for this 13th century story would take place in 1235 wherein the powerful Bulgarian emperor Ivan Asen II and the exiled Byzantine emperor of Nicaea John III Vatatzes team up to take back Constantinople from the Latin Empire.

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Tsar Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria (r. 1218-1241), art by HistoryGold777

Although both rulers teamed up in real history, neither of them succeeded in taking back Constantinople from the Latins, however in the story the change was very shocking with Ivan Asen II betraying John III and capturing Constantinople from the Latins for himself, thus putting Constantinople under Bulgarian rule. This chapter’s what if as mentioned earlier was then something I have planned long before I conceptualized the whole series, as last year when doing my audio epics set in the 13th century, I came across this very unfamiliar and unlikely what if of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire taking over Constantinople in 1235. Chapter X though ended with what did not happen in real history, which here was John III eventually taking back Constantinople from the Bulgarians after Ivan II’s death in 1241 thus restoring the Byzantine Empire that was thought to have died out in 1204, as in real history John III died in 1254 and Constantinople was only recaptured by the Byzantines of Nicaea in 1261.

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Emperor John III Vatatzes in imperial armor on a horse

Due to so much happening in the early 13th century, I chose to end chapter X by 1261 no longer covering the latter part of the 13th century, although chapter X uniquely featured an alternate ending wherein I had the dynasty of John III Vatatzes survive by having Michael Palaiologos, the man who overthrew John III’s dynasty in 1261 blinded and imprisoned for life as his plot to overthrow the dynasty was discovered, thus in the story the descendants of John III or the Laskaris-Vatatzes Dynasty would continue ruling the restored Byzantium. On the other hand, the success of my Byzantine journey had still continued, at the time I was writing chapter X, although not really increasing too much but at least still staying at the same level of success, and part of this was seen with one of my Instagram posts which was a map I made of the post-1204 Byzantium with the different states’ respective coats of arms on it which then got a number of likes and shares and so did my drawing of the 3 Angelos emperors, and my post on August 15 about the reestablishment of Byzantium in 1261 which did happen on that day, and later on another one on the Slavs in the 6th century according to the Byzantines which was for me a very surprising success that now has more than 600 likes on IG. Other than having my success continue after chapter X, I also uploaded the 6th part of my late Byzantine history audio epic (Part VI: The Tragedy of John V Palaiologos), which was uploaded just 2 weeks after finishing chapter X and 3 weeks after the previous video of the series, and it was here when the stories of my late Byzantine history audio epics began coinciding with the stories of my chapters, and other than all the successes I have been facing at this time, it was also between finishing chapter X and before starting the next chapter wherein I got the 2nd dose for the COVID-19 vaccine, thus becoming fully vaccinated. Now as for chapter XI, this then happened to be the one with the quickest writing process out of all the chapters in the entire series, and most of this was due to having enough information on the era in advance considering that the audio epic series I was working on and still working on now is set in the same timeline as chapter XI which is the late 13th and the rest of the 14th centuries.

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

The rest of the events of the late 13th century beginning with the Byzantine reconquest of Constantinople in 1261 and the reign of Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261-1282), the War of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, the first attempt to convert the Byzantine Empire to Catholicism in the 1270s, the reign of Michael VIII’s son and successor Andronikos II (1282-1328), and the further destruction brought to Byzantium by the Catalan mercenaries were then covered in chapter XI. At the same time, chapter XI was the chapter made to introduce the final act of Byzantine history as it was the first chapter to introduce the Ottoman Turks as the new enemy of Byzantium that would in 1453 bring about their end replacing the now dissolved Seljuk Empire in Asia Minor, while the chapter also continued the story of the Mongols as well as the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, but also of the rise of Serbia into a kingdom and eventually to the dominant power of the Balkans being the Serbian Empire. Chapter XI’s story also featured the reign of Andronikos III Palaiologos (1328-1341) being the last period of revival for Byzantium by reconquering most of Greece, as what followed his death in 1341 was a devastating civil war between his wife Anna of Savoy backing their young son Emperor John V and Andronikos III’s right-hand-man and general John Kantakouzenos.

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Emperor John V Palaiologos (r. 1341-1391), art by Justinianus the Great

The story then basically went through what actually happened in real history whereas John Kantakouzenos won the civil war in 1347 becoming Emperor John VI only to have the plague of Black Death hit the Byzantine Empire and further destroy it all while their northern neighbor the Serbian Empire under their newly proclaimed emperor Stefan IV Dusan not being much affected by the plague took advantage of Byzantium’s weakness and took over a lot of Byzantine territory in Greece. The story of the 14th century in chapter XI was then only altered when reaching the 1350s and here I chose to have the Serbian emperor Dusan capture Constantinople, not to conquer and pillage it but to save Byzantium from dying, therefore I chose to make this chapter’s story very much like the previous chapter with a foreign power taking over Byzantium.

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Stefan Uros IV Dusan, King of Serbia (1331-1346), Emperor of Serbia (1346-1355)

The lead character for chapter XI then was the Serbian emperor Stefan IV Dusan who I chose to portray in a more positive light as an admirer of Byzantium despite him being their enemy and in changing the course of history, I had him take over Byzantium to not only save it from deteriorating but to fully expel the Ottomans from the Balkans before they begin to expand, as in real history Dusan never took over Constantinople while the Ottomans after first crossing into Europe in 1354 began rapidly expanding to the point of destroying both the Serbian and Bulgarian Empires. Chapter XI then ended with Constantinople returning to Byzantine rule after Dusan’s death in 1355, though the main difference was that the Ottomans would no longer pose as a threat. The 14th century history of Byzantium true enough never interested me much as it basically just featured Byzantium as a weak and impoverished state with so much wars, plotting, and disaster to the point where it already becomes too tiring unlike how it was in Byzantium’s glory days of the 10th century, therefore I did not put as much effort and attention into writing chapter XI that I could have in fact skipped this entire era being the 14th century which many historical books featuring Byzantium do anyway.

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Byzantine art recreated- Chrysobull of Emperor Andronikos II (r. 1282-1328, left) presenting the document to Christ (right), art by myself

However, since all centuries in Byzantine history were to be represented per chapter, I still went with doing a chapter for the 14th century anyway where the most possible what if was for Dusan to take over Byzantium as it was part of his intention in real history anyway. On the other hand, chapter XI was also basically more or less the teaser chapter for the grand finale (chapter XII), while I also did not do much art projects for chapter XI except for the usual lead character illustrations in which I only featured 10 characters as very early on back in February I already did an illustration of the Byzantine emperor Andronikos III and his wife Empress Anna of Savoy recreating a historical illustration of them, while in March I did a portrait of Emperor Michael VIII, and in April a recreation of a historical illustration of Andronikos II.

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Seal of the Palaiologos Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, founded in 1261

Chapter XI was then completed and published on August 31 and when sharing it, it got rather mixed reviews in the comments section just like chapter X previously, and for chapter XI the comments I got usually said that they did not agree much with Constantinople being taken over by Dusan seeing it as worthless, but despite the criticism the success of my Byzantine journey was still ongoing. While doing chapter XI, I also came across new things such as beginning in watching the series Downton Abbey and later Into the Night on Netflix, replaying Assassin’s Creed Valhalla for PS4, and beginning a new Byzantine historical novel which was The Usurper which was also set in the same era as that of chapter XI.

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Map of the Division of the Byzantine Empire after 1204 with the respective flags and seals of post and pre-1204 states, design by myself
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Constantinople falls to the 4th Crusade, 1204
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The 1261 Byzantine Reconquest of Constantinople, art by FaisalHashemi
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Byzantine art recreated- Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) and his wife Empress Anna of Savoy, art by myself
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Coronation of Dusan as Emperor of Serbia in Skopje, 1346
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Map of the spread of Black Death across Europe, 1347-1351

Before writing the finale chapter XII, I first finished reading The Usurper and even published a review for it on September 11 (read it here) accompanied by a drawing I made of its lead character the late 13th century Byzantine general Alexios Philanthropenos, while at the same time as my success was continuing, on September 6 I posted an artwork I made of Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395) which was the day he won a victory at the Battle of Frigidus in 394 becoming the last emperor of a united Roman Empire before it permanently split with the east becoming the Byzantine Empire and the west falling in 476, and again this post was a success on both FB and IG.

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Alexios Philanthropenos from The Usurper, art by myself

At the same time, before writing chapter IX I also returned to studying after 5 months of being on break, although only doing one subject, thus chapter XII’s release date was delayed as originally it was supposed to be out on September 15, but due to other things I had to do, the date for release was moved to September 27. The process of writing chapter XII then was a long one as considering it being the series’ finale, I put a lot of time and attention to it in order to make a well-made conclusion to the entire 12-part series. Now ever since the very beginning when conceptualizing all the chapters for the series, I already had very big plans for chapter XII which was the finale set in the 15th century being Byzantium’s last century, therefore I wanted to have the final chapter have a much more epic story with a battle more epic than that in the past chapters for its climax, and to also have stories from all the other past chapters including characters like Justinian I the Great and Nikephoros II Phokas make a comeback as a fitting way to end the series.

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Flag of the Ottoman Empire, born in 1299

The researching part and the structuring for chapter XII too was quite tricky, as for the final chapter the story itself was not only about Byzantium as by the 15th century, Byzantium itself had already been so reduced, thus the story itself had a lot more to do about the Ottoman Empire now growing strong than ever, the rest of the Balkans including Serbia, Albania, Wallachia, and Hungary, and the now more powerful kingdoms of Western Europe becoming aware of the threat of the Ottomans. The 15th century where chapter XII was set in was also a time of great transition wherein the Middle Ages transitioned into the Renaissance especially in Italy while the Age of Exploration also began especially in Portugal, while for Byzantium things went the other way around as centuries ago, they were the advanced power both respected and feared by all others around them, but by this point they were the ones weaker and backwards while the rest of the developments happened in the rest of Europe.

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Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1391-1425)

With all the stories of the wars against the Ottomans, the birth of the Renaissance and Age of Exploration, the schism with the Latin Church still continuing, and lastly the 1453 Siege of Constantinople, the finale then went along with real history beginning with the reign of Manuel II Palaiologos (1391-1425) wherein the Ottoman Empire was temporarily destroyed following the defeat of the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I to Timur and his forces at the Battle of Ankara, then the story proceeded to the reign of Manuel II’s son John VIII Palaiologos (1425-1448) wherein the old ideas from Byzantium would spread to Italy and help introduce the Renaissance when John VIII himself visited Italy.

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Emperor John VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1425-1448)

The story also discussed the tensions in Byzantium especially about uniting with the Latin Church in the west to stand against the Ottomans wherein many Byzantines opposed it choosing to fall to the Ottomans rather than giving up their soul being the Orthodox faith and submit to the pope as a result of the trauma they faced under the Catholic Latins of the 4th Crusade in 1204, and this conflict was true enough even present in the ruling dynasty as the emperor John VIII as well as his brothers Constantine and Thomas supported the union while the other brother Demetrios stood against with such passion creating a strong conflict between the brothers despite their empire already on the verge of extinction. The climax of the story would then take place during the reign of John VIII’s brother Constantine XI Palaiologos (1449-1453) as the last Byzantine emperor, although rather than doing what he did in 1453 in real history which was in refusing to surrender the city to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II and instead choose to fight till the end, in the story I made Constantine XI go for the other option of surrendering Constantinople to Mehmed II in order to buy time to one day launch a massive Crusade to take back Constantinople from the Ottomans, thus totally altering history.

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

From 1453 onwards, the story was totally altered as Mehmed II took over Constantinople without a fight, while Constantine XI returned to the Morea in Southern Greece, the last Byzantine holding to once again be its Despot (governor) together with his brother Thomas while the other brother Demetrios then abandons and betrays them switching sides to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II, though both Constantine and Thomas then do the bold move of going to Rome themselves to fully submit to the pope and convert to Catholicism, thus once and for all ending the great schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, which never happened in real history.

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Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror of the Ottoman Empire (r. 1451-1481)

The story then ends with a climactic final battle to recapture Constantinople wherein the famous rulers and defenders of Europe at this time including the Albanian resistance leader against the Ottomans Skanderbeg, the Hungarian general John Hunyadi, and the Prince of Wallachia Vlad III the Impaler all team up to join Constantine and Thomas in the recapture Constantinople from Mehmed II. In addition, I also wanted to add in a very unlikely story and this here was in having the distant Kingdom of Portugal which here was the 15th century’s rising star to come and assist in the recapture of Constantinople, as in real history the Byzantines and Portugal hardly if not had any interaction with each other at all, and just for the sake of fantasy, I had the powerful Portuguese navy come at the last minute to turn the tide of the war to the side of Byzantium, thus at the end the Ottoman Empire was shattered, and Byzantium continued to live on.

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The last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI in the Portuguese blue and white tile art style, art by myself

As the grand finale of the series, chapter XII was no doubt longer than all the previous 11 chapters as it featured so many side stories of the major characters from different parts of Europe and beyond, while it also brought back the highlights from the past 11 chapters. As part of the process of doing chapter XII, I did the usual illustrations for the leading characters which here had 15, while on the other hand as a reference to the Portuguese part in the story, the illustration I did for the story’s cover was a blue and white artwork of Emperor Constantine XI inspired by the Portuguese blue and white azulejo tiles. After publishing the final chapter on September 27, when sharing to the various history groups in Facebook I am a part of, it received rather mixed reviews wherein many commented saying that this kind of story of Constantine XI surrendering Constantinople to one day take it back seems rather absurd as the schism between east and west could not be solved while Western Europe was either too busy with their problems or too selfish to assist Byzantium, however I still did not really give much of damn about what they said as true enough the final chapter for the series was pure fantasy, and overall I was just very glad to have finished the entire series still coming out of it in one piece. Now after completing the series, my following on both FB and IG still continued to increase and after more than a week of taking a break from posting on IG, I continued posting in which my posts still continued getting the same success, and just recently on October 7 I uploaded the 7th episode of my audio epic (Part VII: Byzantium’s Last Respite) which has the same setting as the prologue part of chapter XII, and even with the series over, my Byzantine journey still has a long way to go.  

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Map of the Byzantine Empire by 1450 (purple) and other territories including the Ottoman Empire
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Renaissance Italian painting of John VIII as one of the magi, made during his stay in Florence by Benozzo Gozzoli
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The Fall and Ottoman Conquest of Constantinople, 1453
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Constantine XI’s final charge against the Ottomans on May 29, 1453, art by FaisalHashemi

Lessons from the History of Byzantium and from my Byzantine Journey, My Take on Byzantium’s Legacy, and Updates          

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Now when it comes to discussing the lessons that I have learned throughout my journey of writing the 12 chapters, I have to divide this into two parts as there were lessons that I have learned from the Byzantines in their entire 1,100-year history, and lessons I also learned from my journey as a Byzantine content producer.

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire (13th-15th centuries)

First, I shall start with the lessons I learned from the history of Byzantium itself and being an empire that lasted for a total of 1,123 years with over 90 emperors and 15 ruling dynasties, there is just so much to learn from. The biggest learning I had from the entire history of Byzantium itself that I have been impressed with the most was the longevity of their empire and how they persisted through such challenges to the point of lasting for over 1,100 years, that true enough just recently when looking at a list of the world’s longest living states in history, Byzantium ranked at #7 while the other longer living states higher than that had in fact happened to be lesser known states that had either existed in Ancient history or were very unknown states in other parts of the world like India or Africa. There were many incidents wherein Byzantium could have already surely disappeared such as in the 7th century when the Arabs all of a sudden expanded and could have conquered the entire Byzantium that had just recently been weakened by war with the Sassanids but impressively Byzantium survived while the Sassanid Empire that had been their longest enemy had completely fallen to the Arabs. When Byzantium’s golden age came to a close in 11th century with another enemy coming out the blue being the Seljuks that so rapidly crushed the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, it was also impressive here to know that Byzantium not only survived but were able to overcome this enemy and grow to become a major power again in the 12th century.

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Constantine XI in full plated armor with his broadsword at the last moments of Byzantium, art by JohnJollos

Lastly, when the army of the 4th Crusade sacked Constantinople and could have possibly ended the existence of the Byzantine Empire itself in 1204, the Byzantines though still going into exile still managed to come back and return to ruling Constantinople despite now no longer ruling a powerful empire but rather one that was a shadow of its former self, and more so that Byzantium at their last days chose to fight to the end for their empire even knowing this would be their end as the Ottomans did in fact capture Constantinople on May 29 of 1453 ending the empire. Now what I leaned from the longevity of Byzantium is that life goes that way, there are many ups and downs to go through, and many challenges to face, and just like Byzantium that overcame these life-threatening challenges through persistence and courage, the same can be said with overcoming life’s greatest challenges and surviving them. Of course, we all meet an end the same way all empires do, and for the Byzantine Empire itself I could say that if it were a person, it would have lived a life of 110 years with every century being a decade in one’s life, and truly this 1,100-year existence of Byzantium was so impressive enough that in entire lifetime as an empire, things had changed so much that the Byzantium of the 12th century ruled by the Komnenos emperors may look so far different from the Byzantium of the 6th century under Justinian I when it fact it was the same empire with the same capital, and in their entire existence they had seen many states around them both rise and fall all while they continued to exist, and even at the very end when the Ottomans conquered all their surrounding states such as Serbia and Bulgaria, Byzantium still stood.

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Byzantine Cataphracts in battle

Just as Flavian said when interviewing him, I have to agree with what he said that one of his greatest learnings from Byzantium is that success comes with the mastery of sword and spirit and this can truly be said about Byzantium as it was through fighting constant wars throughout their existence, that there was barely a time in their history that they experienced multiple decades of peace, and it was through their mastery of war and studying the battle tactics of their enemies that they were able to overcome them and survive, while for the part of the mastery of spirit I can say that they lived on for so long basically because they had the faith of Orthodox Christianity uniting them despite Byzantine society being so divided.

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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1081-1118), master of both warfare and diplomacy

However, another thing I have to say about Byzantium is that they were able to live on for so long not only due to inventions of weapons like Greek Fire or having powerful armies and massive walls protecting their capital, but also because of their mastery of diplomacy, thus a very big learning from Byzantium is that winning wars also require a lot of diplomacy and true enough the Byzantines managed to turn so many enemies away by bribing them, but also the history of Byzantium teaches us that if there is no peaceful way to resolve a conflict, war is the answer as seen many times with the Byzantines. Another great learning too from Byzantine history was that they were basically the empire that continued the existence of the Roman Empire and preserved the knowledge of the Classical Era from Ancient Greece and Rome that they in fact even absorbed it and blended it together with the Christian faith, thus making them an advanced society while the rest of Europe was in the Dark Ages. Of course, over time things would evolve thus the rest of Europe itself would begin advancing while Byzantium itself would stay in the past especially in its last years where their institutions that once seemed so advanced eventually began becoming obsolete, but luckily enough Western Europe was able to obtain knowledge from Byzantium to become more advanced the way Byzantium was before, thus brining about the Renaissance. As Akitku said earlier when I interviewed him, was that Byzantium was true enough a very advanced society in their time, and I have to agree here as when literally most of the entire world did not really have a structured government or laws, Byzantium did, and not only did Byzantium have a very centralized government, they also had state-funded hospitals and schools and a society that was much more literate than that of Europe and most other parts of the world in their time long before the modern age when society became like this.

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Civil War between Emperor Andronikos II and his grandson Andronikos from 1321-1328, sample of political instability in Byzantium

On the other hand, Byzantium also shows that even the most advanced societies are very vulnerable to corruption and internal division, and true enough corruption in the government, incompetence and cruelty by emperors in running the empire at some occasions, political rivalries and even fighting among ruling families, and a highly divided society especially regarding religious or political issues defined their history, but overall this shows that Byzantium was not perfect which makes them seem like any other country today rather than a mythical utopia that may or may have not existed. Meanwhile, another great learning for me is that even the Byzantine emperors no matter how powerful they seemed could lose their power at any moment the moment they lose their popularity, thus this shows that Byzantium really was the continuation of the Roman Empire of old as not only did it continue its imperial institutions but those from the Ancient Roman Republic itself, and true enough Byzantine emperors just like the Roman emperors before them and the consuls of the republic before them were not like the monarchs of Western Europe or the Sassanid or other eastern emperors (China and Japan) that had divine rights but rather, Byzantine emperors got their power from the Senate, army, and people just as how a republic works, therefore Byzantium never really had a system wherein the emperor’s eldest son would succeed him, which is why whenever an emperor comes to power, his authority is sure to be challenged despite him being the eldest son, which is why emperors had creative means of getting around this such as making their sons co-emperors as a way to already immediately name a successor to prevent power struggles.

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Byzantine emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), an example of an emperor going from hero to zero

In Byzantium’s history there had also been many incidents showing that their political system had allowed anyone to rise to power as emperor, thus in their history there had been generals, admirals, common soldiers, peasants, even women, young children, a tribal chieftain, and a money changer becoming emperors, thus I would have to agree with what Chrysa said that Byzantium is kind of the place to follow your dreams as if yo are lucky enough, it will lead to you to something big. There were also some incidences wherein even long before our time when people do have the right to change their system did exist, and true enough there were even some incidences in Byzantine history when revolutions led by the people changed the regime by installing a new emperor of their own choice even long before revolutions like this like the American and French Revolutions happened. Their history too had shown incidences wherein emperors despite starting out popular eventually lost their popularity the moment they are no longer in favor with their people, that some emperors in fact even lost their power when losing popular support, thus being an emperor was a really tough job as to stay in power you really needed to maintain your popularity mostly by winning battles against enemies.

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Constantine XI Palaiologos with the Byzantine emperors of the past above, left to right: Constantine I the Great, Justinian I the Great, Heraclius, Basil II, John II Komnenos, and Michael VIII Palaiologos, art by JohnJollos

Lastly, the biggest lesson I learned from Byzantium was that learning to adapt to the current situation is the way to survive, and this was true enough how Byzantium was able to live on for over a thousand years, as when the times changes such as first when the Western Roman Empire had fallen in 476, they took up the role as the civilization that was there to preserve the imperial Roman identity; when the Arab threat came out of the blue and was there to stay, the Byzantines had to adapt in order to survive, thus creating the Thematic System and Thematic army; when their economy was falling apart, they had to adapt by issuing new economic reforms and new forms of currency; but Byzantium still had major weaknesses, and for me, I would say it was religious schism which further divided their society, and no matter how great they were in solving political and economic problems in their empire, it was their religious problems they could not solve, therefore if there was something I would want to change about Byzantine history, for me it should be that they should have not gotten themselves too fixated on religious schisms which was thus the cancer in their society, especially Iconoclasm as for me I would say the same as Chrysa did, wherein if the Iconoclast policies of the 8th century never came to exist, then perhaps Byzantium would never get into any strong bitter schisms with the west, therefore no Great Schism in 1054, no bad blood between Byzantium and the west, no 4th Crusade sacking Constantinople in 1204, and surely the west will help Byzantium against the Ottomans at the end. Now even up to this day in the distant future, I would say that if we have questions about the society we live in and are either confused or frustrated, I would say that a good solution is to look back at the history of Byzantium to take a look at patterns, as after all history does repeat itself. 

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Map of the Byzantine Empire at 3 different eras; greatest extent in the 6th century (red line), in 1025 (pink), and by 1360 (red)
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Life in 6th century Byzantine Constantinople, art by Amelianvs
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Early period Byzantine soldiers in training, art by Amelianvs
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Byzantine emperor Theophilos (r. 829-842) with the backing of the Byzantine Senate, Madrid Skylitzes
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Alexios V bribes the Varangian Guards to proclaim him emperor, 1204
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Left to right: Byzantine emperors Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195), Alexios III Angelos (r. 1195-1203), and Alexios IV Angelos (r. 1203-1204), said to be the worst Byzantine emperors, art by myself

Now that I have discussed the lessons that I have learned from the history of Byzantium itself, it’s now time to move on to the lessons that I have learned from my journey in creating Byzantine related content online. Basically, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from doing online content on Byzantine history whether blog posts like these, videos, or Instagram posts is to first of all set a goal on where you aim your account/ page to be headed towards as well as how big you want yourself to become in the industry, then to come up with a plan of what you will post as well as your own unique style of posting. For over 2 years now I have been posting articles about Byzantine history on this same site, however it was only at the start on this year when I decided to reach a wider audience and raise more awareness about Byzantine history by creating social media accounts relating to it, beginning with my Instagram account which I in fact was at first reluctant to start wondering in what direction it would be headed to. Although at first, I basically just posted old travel posts on Byzantine era locations I have been to in the past and behind the scenes posts of my previous Byzantine era Lego films, however when the number of my followers began to increase, it was about time that I posted things that had more depth and information mostly being Byzantine history trivia in order to make my content more interesting considering the increase in followers and engagements.

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Byzantine Cataphract cavalry unload using ramps

This strategy of posting too would include posting a variety of posts which in my case included Byzantine travel destinations, Byzantine history trivia, Byzantine fan art, sometimes a quick bio on a Byzantine emperor, and once and a while a spin off post whether it was a Byzantine-Star Wars crossover drawing or a post of another country’s history like that of the Sassanid Empire, Slavs, or even of a far-off place like India or China with a hint of Byzantine history, while when posting every post on my Instagram, from the very early days I already created a trademark of introducing the caption for every post with a diamond emoji, while the emojis too would be common in my posts to make them seem to appear more light and less scholarly, while I also chose to put in a lot of hashtags as a way to get more notice.

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Sample of my posting style on Instagram

At the same time, I also learned some tips in posting from the other accounts I follow in which one before basically posted something long everyday whether it was a bio of a Byzantine emperor or something about Byzantine history wherein the caption was so long it had to spill over to the comments- which I do at times and dread it- while another user does every post beginning with a picture of the user in that certain historical landmark wherein you can view the pictures of the place itself when swiping right while the caption below on the other hand explains the historical angle. The accounts however that basically served as the inspiration for mine included Shadows of Constantinople which tells the history of Byzantium in a very informative, smart, and more organized manner of a collage to put all the pictures at once so that everything is seen immediately, and there was the user Roman Courier which never fails in creating interesting content discussing Roman history and lesser known facts about it including debunking myths in a very light and engaging but at the same time in a very serious way by using primary and academic sources; although from the same Flavian I interviewed here, one major tip I learned in posting history content is to engage followers more by having regular Q&As as well as keeping the posts concise yet entertaining. Another strategy I considered was to also balance and in a way experiment a little in your posts by making them both historically accurate and authentic but also contemporary, meaning not going too over the top in historical authenticity, and for this one example I would give would be in terms of soundtrack when doing videos wherein I would choose to use more modern soundtracks such as those from my favorite bands Chvrches and Of Monsters and Men instead of going too over historical by using Byzantine chants as a soundtrack, while the same can be said too when for example doing a post on Byzantine Constantinople wherein I would choose to balance it better by putting historical information in the caption but using a modern illustration of Byzantine Constantinople for the image instead of one from the Byzantine era itself, and also in this case I would sometimes share funny memes relating to Byzantium as well.

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Meme of Irene blinding Constantine VI, 797

As time progressed, another trick I learned was to post at a regular interval meaning coming up with a new Byzantine IG post every 2-3 days or every 5 days at the most in order to keep things balanced, as posting something or even more than one post every day would soon enough become too tiring for viewers, while posting irregularly- like once every week and once every 2 weeks at times- would confuse viewers making them wonder where you went, while posting irregularly too would not really get you anywhere in followers and engagements unless you have already reached your peak.

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Slavic warriors attacking a Byzantine fortress in the late 6th century, one of my most successful Instagram posts

Along the way, I also came up with a strategy to post on Instagram posts relating to the era where I was at in writing the alternate history stories, and it was around March in between doing chapters II and III when I developed this trick, which was basically a way to just keep my mind focused on the era I was currently working on. When it comes to posting something that would get a lot of hits, from my experience it was usually doing a post about what happened on this certain day, such as my post on the Fall of Constantinople on May 29, while on the other hand the posts that would get the most number of likes as well as comments sometimes happen to be the most unlikely ones, and in my case it was my post on the Slavs and how Byzantium saw them, which then got me a lot of followers including catching the attention of one user posting similar content as I do (follow Slavic History Mythology on Instagram). Of course, if you want your post to gain more attention including shares globally, what I do here is to post whatever I posted on Instagram to my Facebook page, then share it to various Byzantine history related groups that have thousands of members like Roman and Byzantine History, The History of the Byzantine Empire, and Byzantine Real History, which is also basically how I share my blog posts. What I would then say is the key to a successful post is consistency, and I do this by as I said posting things related to the era you’re currently working at, and not to wander off too much into different eras, however for a change it would be good to do so as well. With success however comes a lot of criticism, and in my journey I began experiencing a lot of this especially when my accounts became more successful, and a lot of this had to do with comments of others disagreeing with my post or sometimes speaking ill about Byzantium, and usually I reply back to explain exactly what I was saying or usually don’t mind them if they are just senseless comments as these could be trolls, although this criticism also shows that at least people are interested, though sometimes I also speak out my opinion by commenting what I think or what I suggest for the posts of others especially when it comes to a topic in Byzantine history that interests me a lot. The very rare thing now that I’ve faced was other users plagiarizing by posting the exact same content that I had posted behind my back without mentioning me, and although I very rarely experience this, what I do here about it is to usually remind them when seeing it that the post was originally mine, and also if it all comes to worse; I would report the post. On the other hand, another great experience was in having people out of the blue send you messages praising your content or being plainly curious to know about you and why you like Byzantine history, and when my account became successful, I have experienced this a number of times, in which this kind of experience taught me how to be truly appreciative for something like that to happen as these moments are very rare. Now, one very major thing I learned about in my journey of creating Byzantine history content is to know your audience and who exactly are you aiming to impress, as when it comes to posting about history, people see things differently, and in my experience, I have noticed there are two kinds of audiences, in which there is for one the history fans or history buffs such as myself, and there are the authorities which are basically the scholars and professors of Byzantine history.

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

Based on my experience, both these audiences are usually different from each other and certain posts please either of them, and usually my posts due to its more contemporary and easier to understand style please more history buffs which are the majority of users on Instagram, while posts that usually contain more information on sources and more historical accuracy please the authorities more. At the end however, as I have learned it is quite difficult to please both at the same time or in my case to please the authorities, therefore it turns out that my posts appeal more to history buffs, and although this may not command as much respect as it does when pleasing historical authorities, at least I can get a wider variety of audience, as after all my mission and vision for my Byzantine history social media accounts was to make the history of Byzantium accessible to everyone of all walks of life whether they are familiar with it or not, rather than to just keep the history of Byzantium among a smaller circle of scholars and historians. Of course it would still be great to get the attention of the authorities on Byzantine history online, and to do this I also learned along my journey that this would mean doing tons of research for a an article or for just a simple post and to explain the historical sources as well rather than just searching Wikipedia, and true enough I also applied this method to writing my alternate history stories, meaning that when writing each of the chapters I did more than just search Wikipedia but go through the links linked in Wikipedia, read different articles and books, and go through many channels and podcasts discussing the era to get different versions of it in order to compare them.

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A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis

Additionally, whenever I complete a chapter for the alternate history series or a video on my channel, I always promote it by putting its link on my Instagram bio, while also since I post a lot of Byzantine history trivia it then turned out that my Instagram account became a way of retelling the trivia from one of my favorite Byzantine history books which is A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis, thus probably my viewers would no longer buy the book but instead just follow my IG to get info on Byzantine trivia from the book. Now the greatest learning I have made here was that success comes with time as for the first few months, progress was quite slow, but through time things turned unexpectedly that from over 300 followers I suddenly reached 1,000, then 2,000, and now I have over 4,000 followers on Instagram and over 900 likes on my Facebook page all in less than a year, thus I would say the trick here is to regularly post interesting information but also to be original, and in my case I do this by using filters for every image I post as a way to authenticate it as mine, as well as a detailed caption on what the image is. Although another important learning is to also know your place and what kind of account or page you are, and in my case, I soon enough came to realize I’m more of a Byzantine history fan page posting popular content that appeals to a wider audience in which I have now been growing more satisfied in being such. Of course, the biggest thing I’ve learned is still to basically enjoy posting and creating and let the inspiration flow as this will lead you to many places, and in my case this passion for Byzantine history and posting made me virtually meet and communicate with people from all over the world who all share this common interest.

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Map of Constantinople in the early 15th century

And now I’ve come to the part of discussing about the rich legacy of the Byzantine Empire and where I can still see it today. Obviously, like as many would say I also see the legacy of Byzantium in the many landmarks built in the Byzantine era still around today including the massive and still intact Hagia Sophia and a lot of other landmarks in Istanbul including the Walls of Constantinople, Forum of Constantine, the cisterns, old monasteries and so much more including monasteries and churches in Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans with their impressive mosaics and very deep looking frescos usually with a dark blue background, and the mosaics and churches of Ravenna and in other parts of Italy as well in which I was truly lucky enough to see.

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Sts. Cyril (left) with the Cyrillic Alphabet and Methodius (right), Byzantine missionaries sent to convert the Slavs by Patriarch Photios in the 9th century

Of course, I do not only see the legacy of Byzantium in the physical form meaning landmarks but rather in the non-material world and this would include the Orthodox faith and the Patriarchate of Constantinople that had been the Church of Byzantium which until this day is still around, while another of the spiritual influences of Byzantium that still live on to this day is the Cyrillic Alphabet the Slavic countries such as Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia still use which was in fact first introduced to them by the Byzantine Greek missionaries St. Cyril and St. Methodius in the 9th century in which the alphabet in fact even gets its name from St. Cyril, although these missionaries did not really invent it as other monks in the Balkans developed it over time in the late 9th century.

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Emperor Justinian I with his Corpus Juris Civilis

Aside from the Orthodox faith and the Cyrillic Alphabet, the Byzantine legacy in the non-physical form can be seen in a much bigger picture even beyond the lands once under Byzantium, and this is in terms of legal systems, as true enough even up to this day the code of laws or Corpus Juris Civilis created by the jurist Tribonian under Emperor Justinian I way back in the 6th century still serves as the basis for legal systems of many modern countries, while on the other hand laws made back then in that code of laws still even apply up to this day, as recently I discovered about a law wherein any body of water cannot be owned, and this law itself dates all the way back to Justinian’s code. Now Justinian’s code had happened to be so influential that many rulers and kingdoms after his time including the Visigoths of Spain, Emperor Stefan IV Dusan of Serbia, and the Ottoman sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent in the 16th century were all inspired by Justinian to make their own code of laws for their empires, thus showing how Byzantium even in their time already influenced others a lot.

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Kievan Rus’ and Scandinavians (Varangians) sail down to Constantinople (Miklagard), 860

Byzantium’s reach true enough was so large, not even in our time but in theirs, as in the 10th and 11th centuries when Byzantium was a major world power, stories of the grandness of their empire reached as far as Scandinavia to the north and Sub-Saharan Africa in the south wherein Scandinavians even referred to Constantinople as Miklagard simply meaning “the city”. Of course, even after the fall of Byzantine Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, Byzantium itself never really died as many states took in the identity of Byzantium, therefore it remains unclear to tell which state is really Byzantium’s successor. For me, I would say that the Ottoman Empire was Byzantium’s political successor as they took over Constantinople themselves and made it their new capital while also adopting Byzantium’s government systems and architecture, while Italy on the other hand is Byzantium’s spiritual successor mainly because of the Renaissance as after the fall of Constantinople several Byzantine scholars fled to Italy escaping the Ottomans and bringing with them knowledge from Classical Greece and Rome that they have preserved and there introducing a new revival of art and academics which was the Renaissance in which we owe it very much to the Byzantines, and lastly there is Russia as they were the ones to succeed Byzantium in terms of faith as long after the fall of Byzantium it was Russia that became the world’s Orthodox power the way Byzantium was in the Middle Ages.

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Constantine XI, the last emperor with the great rulers of Byzantium’s past above, left to right: Basil II, Manuel I Komnenos, Justinian I, Theodora, Irene of Athens, Zoe Porphyrogenita, art by Gambargin

Now, for many Western minded people including myself, Byzantium should be held with such high respect as even though they were not a Western empire, they still preserved the ideas of Classical Greece and Rome that would help bring about the Renaissance and greatly influence Western thinking up to this day, and unfortunately those who put Byzantium in such a bad light after the 16th century- when the word “byzantine” was for the first time coined- by remembering Byzantium only for corruption and everything despicable were Western scholars, therefore I have to say that these Westerners including the likes of Edward Gibbon and Voltaire who basically slandered Byzantium should be ashamed of themselves as it was Byzantium that preserved the philosophy that influenced their way of thinking! Now at this day, no matter where you are in the world, you can surely see that Byzantium lives on especially in the way countries with their governments and political systems work, most especially when seeing how leaders are backed by the people, army, and aristocrats, including all the political rivalries, and power struggles which definitely still shows that Byzantium does indeed have its relevance all the way up to this day in the distant future.

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Byzantine forks

On the other hand, I would also see Byzantium’s influence not only in large aspects including faith, politics, art, and culture but in the smallest things used in everyday life as well like the simple fork, in which many do not know that the Byzantines did in fact invent it and spread it throughout Europe sometime in the 10th century when a Byzantine princess married the Holy Roman emperor in Germany. For me, the fork is such an important part of life that I literally use it to eat everything including pizza and sandwiches, thus truly I owe a lot to the Byzantines for making life easier that way! Of course, what keeps Byzantium and its history alive today are those who keep the flame of the empire burning as if it had not been extinguished in 1453- as Flavian had said- from renowned scholars and academics to content creators such as myself and many others I know who live to believe Byzantium never really died out and see the legacy of the empire still alive in many forms, in which for my case I do in fact still see Byzantium in many things no matter how very unrelated they are such as in a good and emotional song which brings me back to the Byzantine era.

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The lifetime of the entire Roman civilization- Kingdom, Republic, Empire, and Byzantine Empire (753BC-1453AD)

However, it is still such a shame that Byzantium is not really popular in world history that general history books barely mention it except for Constantinople’s founding by Constantine I in 330, the reign of Justinian I in the 6th century, and the fall of the empire in 1453 while many people either ignore Byzantine history instead believing the Roman Empire had fallen in 476 and after that Europe fell into the dark ages. However, I would also say that I am glad to see young people such as myself, Flavian, and a lot of others being aware of the great history of Byzantium in an age where most young people are rather shallow, narrow-minded, or do not care much about the wider world but just their immediate surroundings, which shows that the rich history and legacy of the Byzantine Empire still does indeed have some relevance and interest with young everyday people rather than just scholars and historians, thus I have to say that I am glad to be part of the movement of young people not only interested in but willing to share the great history of Byzantium to other everyday people whether or not they are familiar with it. Of course, the best way for Byzantine history to get more exposure especially among everyday people is to have a large budget Hollywood movie or a large budget series on the topic, as Byzantine history unlike Ancient Greece, Rome, or Medieval Europe has never even made an appearance in popular films and series, and true enough it does have the potential do so, and that way people would more and more be aware of Byzantium’s existence.  

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The Byzantine Legacy- frescos on a dark blue background
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The Byzantine Legacy- golden mosaics, Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

And lastly before I finish off, I would just like to share a few updates on what I would be doing now that I have finished my 12-part series, and basically since I have completed writing it, of course what I have to share next is this long post you are reading here to conclude the entire series and my thoughts and feeling about it. Now after finishing chapter XII, I do not really have plans of posting anything on this site for a while, as after all I need to take quite a long rest after about 8 months of writing the entire series with barely any breaks and facing so many ups and downs, but of course I will still continue to do more Byzantine themed art and posts on Byzantine trivia for my Instagram account to keep you all updated and to know that I am still out there and still willing to share more Byzantine history content, as after all there are still tons topics that may be of interest to many in their very rich and complex history that I have not yet shared in social media. Definitely I will still continue doing my Byzantine themed art which I would continue to post wherein I also have one planned for the end of the year being a chart of all the Byzantine emperors in which I have already drawn many of them for the 12 chapters of the series, although for the ones I have not drawn yet, I would draw them in the same icon style I used for the series’ character illustrations in order to complete the chart of the emperors. As for my Instagram posts, now that the series is over, most of them will no longer follow the course of Byzantine history but instead be random, meaning that one post would be something about Byzantium in the 6th century, then the next one may be something about the 12th century, although with chapter XII finished my other IG posts would also include spinoff stories discussing characters from the story including non-Byzantines like Vlad the Impaler, Mehmed II, and Skanderbeg, as well as events after 1453 like the last descendants of the Palaiologos Dynasty, the last dynasty of Byzantium’s 15 ruling dynasties. At the same time, my audio epic series “The Last Roman Dynasty” for my Youtube channel discussing Byzantium under the Palaiologos Dynasty still remains unfinished with 2 more episodes left to go, thus before the end of the year my plan is to finish this entire audio epic series. Overall, I would definitely miss writing the alternate history series though possibly before the year ends, I also plan to write one more alternate history chapter, although this one being chapter XIII would basically be a Byzantine spinoff discussing an alternate reality of the Byzantine Empire if it lived up to the 16th century wherein the events that had been altered from chapter XII would spill over to this story. Other than this, I definitely plan to do more interactive articles like this one in the future with interviews or articles in collaboration with someone, which was after all a new thing for my site I only began doing this year. Aside from possibly writing this story, I also have a major project planned in mind once I finish the audio epic series I have also been working on for the entire year, and this major project I have in mind is another Byzantine Lego epic film, as after all I have not filmed a major Lego epic film since War of the Sicilian Vespers in 2020, therefore it would be such a pleasure to do another large-scale Byzantine era Lego epic after such a long time as a comeback film. Now for this upcoming Lego epic, the plot I have in mind for it would be one of the 12 chapters of my series, and out of the 12 chapters I am for now deciding whether it would be the story of chapter II or that of chapter IX of the series that would be made into this film, as after all these were the two most enjoyable chapters in the series for me, while it is also these two that I believe have the potential to be made into and are the most practical ones in story to be made into a homemade Lego film for my channel No Budget Films that is mainly a channel of homemade Lego films telling an epic story set in history. Now aside from more Byzantine themed artworks, the possible epilogue story to the 12-part series, and the upcoming Lego film, the even much bigger thing I have in mind in the future related to my Byzantine history interest is going to be a business I aim to launch next year on a Byzantine themed board game and a deck of cards considering that I study a business course, though I still have to organize my thoughts and plans on this. As for now, with the 12-part series completed what is to happen next would be a trip to New York and Washington D.C. wherein I will continue my Byzantine journey seeing the Byzantine collections there including the Dumbarton Oaks collection of Byzantine seals and coins in Washington D.C. Now that I have completed the series, I have also come to realize that my career path in Byzantine history is that I am more of a generalist as I basically share information not just in a specific part of Byzantine history, or of a certain emperor, or on a certain part of Byzantine culture, but on the entire 1,1100-year history of Byzantium and everything about it, therefore I shall stick to this career path in Byzantine history. Of course, with the series over, I definitely have much higher ambitions and goals for my Byzantine journey and this would include getting more exposure and publicity worldwide, as well as also writing an article for a Byzantine history site, and getting one of my artworks featured by another site, but of course the best thing to do is still to share good information and enjoy doing it. Lastly, before I completely finish off, I would want to say that this Byzantine career I have launched only this year no matter how tiring it was still gave me a great sense of purpose and direction, as without it I would not know where I would be, therefore I would like to thank all those who share the content I made in any social media platform, those who have also recommended my IG account to the others as this truly helped in growing my account in terms of likes and followers, and of course I would like to thank all my fans and viewers whether on Instagram, Facebook, or in this site for showing some support. After all, it all turned out this Byzantine journey of mine was very much like a dream coming true like that of the Byzantine emperors of the past who began out as nothing and rose up the ranks, as in my journey over the months as well, the same can be said. Now, this is all for this article, and I hope you enjoyed reading it, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveler, thank you all for reading and showing your appreciation!   

 

 

A Review and Reaction to the Byzantine era novel “The Usurper” from a Byzantine history fan

Posted by Powee Celdran

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!!

If you do not want any spoilers, please order The Usurper on Amazon.

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The Usurper (2020) by Emanuele Rizzardi; cover photo- Fresco of Byzantine emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos

Welcome back to another article by the Byzantium Blogger! For now, I am taking a quick break from my 12-part Byzantine Alternate History fan fiction series as I have just completed chapter XI of it and I’m now on the way to the series’ grand finale, chapter XII. For this quick break, I am doing this short but very special article which will be a review and my own personal reaction to the latest Byzantine era setting novel I have read which is The Usurper (2020) by Emanuele Rizzardi, which if you remember I briefly discussed in my latest alternate history chapter. For those who are not familiar with the book or want to order a copy of it, please check it out on Amazon before you read this article as it will contain some spoilers about the book, but for those who know about it, especially those who have already read it and may have some opinions about it whether positive or negative, please keep in mind that this article will basically express my thoughts about the book.

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The Usurper original version in Italian

First of all, The Usurper (originally L’usurpatore) is the second novel of the Italian novelist and president of Byzantion Cultural Association Emanuele Rizzardi who prior to this wrote L’ultimo Paleologo published in 2018 and just this year published his 3rd novel Lo stendardo di Giove, although “The Usurper” is the first of his books to be translated into English by both Rizzardi and Michael Gardiner, and what I read was the English translation of the original Italian one. Although the book is already a year old, I still chose to order it through Amazon and read it just recently as despite being already well educated about the history of Byzantium, I still want to know more and see different takes on it which would include historical fiction novels such as this one as well as the graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale (2020) by Spyros Theocharis in which I also made a similar review and fan reaction article for it earlier on this year. This then would be the second time I would be doing a review and reaction to a Byzantine era novel, and to sum it all up I would say that “The Usurper” is a very interesting read with a total of 23 chapters featuring an exciting and at the same time suspenseful story to tell, although it may have had some dull moments in between the entire story itself was a very interesting one, especially for those who are very familiar with Byzantine history as it discusses a period in Byzantine history not very well-known to those not familiar with the entire history of Byzantium. The novel basically follows the story of Alexios Philantropenos in his own perspective, who is a lesser-known figure in Byzantine history but at the same time a very underrated one who was a young general in the late 13th century related to the ruling Palaiologos Dynasty sent by his uncle the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328) to the defense of Asia Minor, once the heartland of the Byzantine Empire that had fallen into anarchy as the threat of the Turks have increased over the years. Alexios sent to take care of the Turkish threat in Asia Minor particularly posed by the powerful warlord Karman Bey of Miletus initially succeeds in doing so, but at the end he comes to realize the harsh reality of the world he is living in which is that of a corrupt and decaying Byzantium, which then later puts Alexios in the position of rebelling against his uncle the emperor and usurping the throne in order to save his dying empire.

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For almost a year now since “The Usurper” was released, I have already been coming across it in posts by the author himself in the Byzantine history Facebook groups I am part of such as Roman and Byzantine History and Byzantine Real History while also seeing an interview of the author about this particular novel in the Youtube channel Eastern Roman History that I also follow, which then made me curious about it.

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However, it was only just 2 months ago when I finally decided to order a copy and read it, and surprisingly it was for me an interesting and in fact even an enjoyable read. As mention earlier, this is the second time I have read and done a review article on a Byzantine era historical fiction novel, the first one being the graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale, which is however a very totally different kind of novel compared to this one I am reviewing now as the former is more of a colorful and lively graphic novel set in a famous and at the same time glorious period in Byzantine history (the 10th century) that basically shows you how life was in that time, while this one “The Usurper” is something I would call a much more serious novel set in a lesser known but still interesting period in Byzantine history (the late 13th century) that does not only show you but immerses you to life in that time, also featuring a time when the Byzantine Empire is in decline with an underrated tragic hero as its lead character which is the general Alexios Philanthropenos. Now for this article, I would basically be giving you reasons on why to buy this novel and what makes it an exciting and engaging one that not only shows you what life was like then but immerses you into the late 13th century Byzantine setting, then I would proceed to giving my own opinions about the novel and my own suggestions if I were to rewrite it. At the same time, I have to say that when writing this article, I did in fact have the honor of interviewing the author Emanuele Rizzardi by messaging him through Instagram, whom I have asked a couple of questions about the novel such as why he chose the late 13th century setting and Alexios Philanthropenos as the lead character, in which these answers will be mentioned here throughout the rest of my article. In addition, I have also done my own artwork of the novel’s lead character Alexios Philanthropenos specifically for this article as being the lead character, Alexios is someone I find very likeable and heroic who deserves much more attention than he actually does, and true enough I think “The Usurper” does a great job in giving justice to Alexios Philanthropenos, who is one of Byzantium’s greatest yet forgotten heroes who could have saved the empire from decaying if he did not meet such a tragic end of being betrayed and blinded.

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Alexios Philanthropenos, artwork by myself (2021)

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Watch the interview of The Usurper featuring its author Emanuele Rizzardi on Eastern Roman History

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

A Byzantine History fan reacts to Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

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War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Lego Byzantine Epic

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


 

Reasons why you should buy and read The Usurper

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For those who are already familiar with the history of Byzantium, this novel will not only show you the lesser-known part of Byzantine history in the late 13th century but will immerse you in it as the story is written in a very detailed way especially in describing the locations and people of the time.

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Seal of the Palaiologos Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, founded by Michael VIII in 1261

The story mainly takes place in Western Asia Minor in the 1290s wherein 30 years have passed since the Byzantine Empire has been restored after its fall to the 4th Crusade followed by the 57-year period of Latin rule over Constantinople (1204-1261), and even though the empire was restored, imperial rule especially in Asia Minor had already been disintegrating. A lot of this was due Asia Minor being left neglected by imperial authorities who instead focused their attention to Byzantine territories in Greece and the Balkans thus leaving Asia Minor to be threatened by the rise of the expanding Turkish states or Beyliks that have been moving westwards due to the pressure of the Mongols from the east and the decentralization of the Seljuk Turkish Empire that had ruled most of Asia Minor for about 2 centuries. Rather than showing a Byzantium at a time of glory as a world power, this story does a unique thing of showing a Byzantium at an age of decline, which is something I find new and interesting as most historical fiction books with a Byzantine setting would more or less like to talk about an age of glory and imperial power, but in the case of “The Usurper” it does it the other way around showing readers something new which is a much a more vulnerable Byzantium. Since this book talks about a lesser-known time in Byzantine history showing the empire in decline, I would really suggest that this book would be for those who are already familiar with the whole history of Byzantium in order to get to know more information about this period in Byzantine history.

It takes the reader through a journey across Asia Minor in the Byzantine era as most of the story’s setting is in Byzantine Asia Minor or at least what was left of it in the late 13th century with only the beginning and end of it not as it begins in Thessaloniki and ends somewhere outside Constantinople. Using Asia Minor as the story’s primary setting is therefore something I would say is a very unique feature for a Byzantine era historical fiction novel as most books of this genre set in the Byzantine era would usually use the capital Constantinople as its primary setting, but true enough Byzantium was more than just Constantinople but the empire as a whole especially in this period in Byzantine history where there was more happening outside the capital than within it. This novel then does a great job in representing Asia Minor, the heartland of the Byzantine Empire that it barely if not even has a single scene set in the imperial capital featuring the famous landmarks of the imperial palace, Hippodrome, and Hagia Sophia. The story then follows the journey of the general Alexios Philanthropenos from 1293-1295 starting off at his house in Thessaloniki then taking you to Kallipolis (Gallipoli), then across the Dardanelles Strait into Asia Minor first to the decaying city of Dardanelles, the fortress of Paleokastron, and to the ancient city of Nymphaeum which Alexios would use as his base for his entire Asia Minor campaign. From Nymphaeum, the story takes you through Alexios’ battles against the Turkish warlord Karman Bey and his allies in Philadelphia, the Meander Valley, Tralles, Nysa, Priene, Ephesus, and many places in between, then finally to Nicaea where the story’s climax takes place. As the story takes you through Western Asia Minor it does not only tell you about an adventure but describes in detail the landscape, the people and their customs, climate, and the system of Byzantine governance there, and this is what I meant by saying that the story does not only show you Byzantium in this time but immerses you in it.

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (pink) together with the Turkish Beyliks of Asia Minor, Latin States of Greece, and Balkan kingdoms by 1300, art by TheGreyStallion

The lead character Alexios Philanthropenos is a likeable heroic character with a great character development as when he is introduced where the story opens, he is at first seen as a young and idealistic general who wants to prove his ability as a military commander when he is appointed by his uncle the emperor Andronikos II as the commander or Doux of Asia in 1293, but as the story progresses, he gets a taste of the reality of war and even of power that would have a great impact in the changing of his personality. Alexios Doukas Philanthropenos (1270-1340s) is actually a real historical figure and the story itself is based on his campaigns in which it is written in his own point of view wherein he refers to himself in first person as he narrates the story of his lengthy Asia Minor campaign 30 years later to his son Michael all in one letter. Alexios however despite being a great general and loyal solider to his empire is barely remembered in history and a lot of this had to do with him being betrayed and blinded at the end of his campaigns as a result of him usurping the throne from his uncle although unwillingly.

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Palaiologos Dynasty coat of arms

Alexios too has a background of being from a distinguished military family in Byzantium as his father Michael Tarchaneiotes was a general that served the previous emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) who was the father of the current emperor in the story Andronikos II, and in his father’s side Alexios is related to the ruling Palaiologos Dynasty with his grandmother being a sister of Emperor Michael VIII, while Alexios’ last name of Philanthropenos that he uses comes from his mother’s side. Where the story opens, Alexios is a young man who is relatively new to military life and has in fact never set foot in Asia Minor his whole life, and despite only having taken part in a few campaigns in the Balkans, the young Alexios is already assigned by his uncle the emperor- who even comes to Alexios’ house in Thessaloniki at the dead of a winter night- to lead the campaign to drive away the raiding Turks from Byzantine Asia Minor as the emperor finally comes to realize the severity of the situation there which his father Michael VIII indirectly caused by putting all attention the west. At first, Alexios is only given a few thousand men to assist him in his battles, but after winning one victory after another his army multiplies as more and more people in the war-torn, impoverished, and neglected Asia Minor are inspired to join him believing he will do the job of saving them which their emperor Andronikos II and his father Michael VIII before him had failed to do. In his campaigns against the Turkish Beyliks, Alexios does not only prove to be a capable warrior and inspiring commander but a skilled diplomat as well that he manages to persuade the Turks despite them being seen as the enemy to fight alongside his army using the Turks’ disunity and their tribal rivalries to his advantage, but at the same time also convincing them that they would work better together to later on fight their common enemy which was the larger threat of the Mongols from the east. Though successful in securing Asia Minor and not only containing the Turkish threat but reconquering lost lands, Alexios is soon enough viewed as a threat by the emperor who believes Alexios to be disobeying orders when allying himself with the other Turkish tribes and imposing his own policy of recapturing lands in which both were not part of the emperor’s orders, though at the same time the emperor seems to be threatened as well believing that Alexios’ popularity would soon lead to Alexios taking throne. Alexios on the other hand is conflicted here which makes him a very interesting character as he is torn between loyalty to his uncle the emperor Andronikos II despite his incompetent rule and duty to the empire and its people as a whole to save them from corruption and decay.

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Andronikos II Palaiologos, Byzantine emperor (r. 1282-1328), uncle of Alexios Philanthropenos

At the end, as the people of Asia Minor grow tired of Andronikos II’s rule, they rally under Alexios whose victories over the Turks and how he used the money looted from the enemy to rebuild the damage of the cities in Asia Minor, thus they proclaim him as their emperor (Basileus) against the reigning Andronikos II. At first Alexios is unwilling to allow himself to be made emperor seeing it as treason to the empire itself but eventually ends up deciding to put his claim on the throne becoming known as the “Iron Basileus” not out of greed but to save the empire itself from letting it destroy itself and return to it to the glory days of old. When deciding he has to usurp the throne for the greater good of the empire, Alexios once finished with his campaigns against the Turks prepares his men to march to Constantinople to overthrow the emperor but unfortunately only makes it to Nicaea where he is betrayed by some of his own troops and is blinded, thus ending his rebellion that could have saved the empire. Now Alexios Philanthropenos seems to be a very obscure choice for a historical figure in Byzantine history to do a complete novel about compared to more famous great figures such as Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565), his general Flavius Belisarius (505-565), Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641), Emperor Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer (r. 976-1025), Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118), or the last emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449-1453), but when asking the author why his choice was Alexios Philanthropenos and this part in Byzantine history, he says it is because nobody really speaks or writes much about him, yet he still has a great story, while it is also his main interest to speak about people who did great things in the past but have been forgotten because of tragic circumstances that they face, which in Alexios’ case was his rebellion against the emperor that led to his betrayal and blinding. As for the rather more obscure late 13th century setting, the author says he chose it because it is that because no matter how not so well-known this time was, it was a very important transition period in history where the centuries rule of the Byzantines over their heartland Asia Minor comes to an end while the rule of the Turks over Asia Minor would begin, thus soon enough leading to the establishment of the Ottoman Empire that will in 1453 take over Byzantium and later on be the master power of the Mediterranean, Balkans, and the Middle East. As for me, I would definitely say Alexios Philanthropenos is a truly interesting character mostly because of his conflicted personality and his ability not only as a soldier but as a diplomat and politician at a relatively young age and he too would have had so much more potential if only he were not betrayed and blinded.

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Flavius Belisarius, Byzantine general (505-565)

Alexios is then one of the many figures in history who could have done great deeds if only they did not meet their end too soon and similar figures to Alexios in Roman and Byzantine history include the Western Roman Empire’s general Flavius Stilicho (359-408) who could have saved his empire from being destroyed but was unfortunately betrayed and executed, although the great Roman/ Byzantine general of the past Alexios is compared to is Flavius Belisarius of the 6th century that the contemporary Byzantine historian of Alexios’ time which is Nikephoros Gregoras (1295-1360) in fact praises Alexios by calling him the “Belisarius of the Palaiologan era”, and in the book he is in fact also dubbed as a “new Belisarius” referring to Alexios’ deeds in battle and service to the empire. Where the book ends, the story fast-forwards 30 years later and Alexios despite being blinded is still alive, and in real history Alexios 30 years later is in fact called to military service again as he begins to get his sight back.   

It features a variety of colorful characters whether historical or fictional and other than the lead character Alexios Philanthropenos, this includes the likes of Alexios’ military advisor and former soldier Michael the Armenian, the mercenary captain Konstas from Venetian held Crete, the old mercenary captain Theodore and his silent and enigmatic but fearless in battle adopted daughter known as simply as “the bastard”, the Turkish warlord and ally of Alexios Osman who is in fact the mysterious founder of the Ottoman Empire, and the bloodthirsty Turkish warlord Karman Bey who is the story’s main antagonist who Alexios is sent to fight. Other interesting characters in the story includes Alexios’ young wife Theodora who joins him in his campaign, Alexios’ doctor and priest friend Angelos who however sadly met his end too soon being torn to death by wolves, the governor of Nicaea Libadarios, Osman’s son Orhan who would eventually succeed his father as the second Ottoman sultan, the Metropolitan of Philadelphia Theoleptos and the noblewoman Irene Choumnos who push Alexios to usurp the throne, the young boy soldier Philippos from the Cretan mercenary forces, the members of the ruling Palaiologos family, and last but not the least Alexios’ uncle the emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos himself who is actually the real antagonist of the story who hides his corrupt and power tripping side with his friendly personality. The story in fact does not only center on the lead character and his thoughts and feelings but also on how the other characters feel about their objective and about each other with the most notable parts being the recurring bad blood between the Turkish warlord Osman and the Cretan mercenary captain Konstas when both are serving under Alexios, and how the old military advisor and the mercenary Theodore were old friends and how they have lost faith in the empire especially in their emperor and how he had neglected their homeland which is Asia Minor which is also how the people of Asia Minor feel especially about how the corruption in their empire and the court in Constantinople while their emperor leaves them alone to defend themselves which eventually triggers them to all rally under Alexios believing he would make the empire a better place for them.

It blends in a good number of fictional elements to a real historical setting while featuring a number of interesting side stories as well which makes this more of an engaging novel instead of just another history book that only stays true to the facts.

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George Pachymeres, Byzantine historian (1242-1310)

At the same time, the novel is very much based on actual events in real history and when asking the author about it, he says that he based the novel on primary sources such as that of the contemporary historian of that era George Pachymeres (1242-1310) who does in fact make an appearance in the novel in its latter part being the one giving word to Alexios that the emperor plans to make Alexios his Caesar which Alexios refuses now coming to believe that he must take over the entire empire itself to save it. In his time, George Pachymeres not only wrote a historical account on Byzantium from 1255-1308 describing the reigns of Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261-1282) and that of his son and successor Andronikos II’s, but he also wrote about arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy, as well as on Aristotelian philosophy, the architecture of Constantinople in his time, a number of poems, and an autobiography. Other than Pachymeres, the author also used Byzantine military manuals by modern authors as his sources, especially for the novel’s very descriptive battle scenes whether taking place in open fields or in besieging cities. For me, one of the most interesting even if almost totally inaccurate part was that of Osman joining forces with Alexios’ troops as they both had common enemies first being Karman Bey and then the Mongols.

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Osman Bey (r. 1299-1324), founder of the future Ottoman Empire, art by Doqida

This part of Osman joining forces with Alexios did in fact surprise me a lot as I had never heard of Osman at one point joining forces with the Byzantines, and when asking the author if this was historically accurate he says that the most correct answer to this is “no” because we know very little of Osman’s story as true enough Osman remains to be a very enigmatic historical figure that sources written about him at his time do not exist, and rather he was only written about years after his death which was in around 1324. However, when asking the author about the Osman part of the story, he also said that the part of Osman helping Alexios could be a possibility as in Alexios’ 1293-1295 campaign in Asia Minor he was in fact helped by many minor Turkish beys which could have been Osman who at this time was true enough only a minor Turkish warlord with a small state along the Byzantine border in Northwest Asia Minor. Whether the part on Osman’s involvement in helping Alexios in his campaigns is factual or not, I still think it was a good choice to put Osman into the story as in this rather obscure time Osman would be one of the most well-known figures despite his origins story being a mystery, as after all Osman after his death would leave behind a great legacy which was that of founding the Ottoman Empire and the unbroken dynasty named after him (Osmanli) that would rule this empire uninterrupted, and this empire of Osman would be the one to be able to conquer Byzantium in 1453 and afterwards become a major world power that would exist up until the 1922 shortly after World War I. On the other hand, Osman’s involvement in Alexios’ campaigns also makes sense as Osman swore loyalty to Alexios as his emperor and not to the reigning emperor Andronikos II, and following Alexios’ blinding in 1295 Osman in the story true enough severed his ties with Byzantium and would eventually become the most immediate threat to the Byzantines when Osman began his empire in 1299, and it was in fact Osman and his forces that crushed the Byzantine army at the Battle of Bapheus in 1302, which would be the event that would begin the end of Byzantine rule over Asia Minor and the rise of Osman’s Beylik that would soon become an empire.

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Flag of the Empire of Nicaea under the Laskaris Dynasty (Byzantine Empire in exile, 1204-1261)

Now when talking about the interesting side stories of the novel, this include stories like how Michael VIII Palaiologos established his dynasty in 1261 when blinding the legitimate ruler which was the boy emperor John IV Laskaris (r. 1258-1261) who ruled the exiled Byzantine Empire at Nicaea, and in the story’s setting even more than 30 years after, this incident would still be remembered especially by the people of Asia Minor who had overall still preferred the former Laskaris Dynasty over the current Palaiologos one, and the one major twist in the story is that Alexios himself is in fact related to the previous Laskaris Dynasty which made the people proclaim him as emperor believing he is the legitimate one while the current emperor Andronikos II is the actual usurper being the son of the man who usurped the throne from John IV Laskaris who was in fact still in fact alive in this story’s setting although unfit to rule due to being blinded. Another side story in the novel that recurs a lot is that of the emperor’s brother Constantine Palaiologos who just a few years before the story’s setting had been removed from command for simply disobeying the orders of his brother the emperor which is the same fate Alexios would face.

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Map of the expansion of the Ottomans in Northwest Asia Minor under Osman (1281-1324)

War scenes are very descriptive that it makes this story not only one of adventure but of the harsh reality of war, and this is also one of the reasons why the novel not only shows you but immerses you into the Byzantine world at that time.

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Army of the Turkish Beyliks of Asia Minor, late 13th and early 14th centuries

First of all, the battle scenes which the novel features a lot of is written in a very detailed manner describing the smallest things that happen from swords clashing with shields to very graphic scenes of blood and guts spilling out as well as the differences battle tactics used by the Byzantines and Turks whereas as the Byzantines and their mercenaries fight more as heavy infantry with heavy weapons such as long spears and large swords while wearing heavy armor whereas the Turks fight more as light infantry and cavalry using shorter spears and bows. It also describes siege warfare and more advanced methods of it in detail such as the part where Alexios and his army infiltrated the city of Priene in Asia Minor by sneaking through its aqueduct to get to their main target Karman Bey who would be killed off here, which I would say is one of the most memorable parts of the novel together with the part when Alexios’ men successfully besiege Nysa prior to this by blocking off the river to cut off the population’s water supply. Though it may contain a lot of action sequences especially battle scenes, it would not be overall the usual war adventure type of story as with the story progressing, the more and more it would seem like a war drama with all the deaths, intrigues, and the trauma caused by war especially in a long one like the one featured in the story. As a true war drama, the book does in fact contain a lot of graphic violence, and some notable scenes that contain this kind of graphic violence and disturbing elements would be the battle between Alexios and his allies against Karman Bey and his allies wherein Karman Bey no matter how fearsome he is known to be breaks down in tears when his son is gruesomely beheaded in battle by Alexios’ men which causes Karman’s forces to be defeated as he flees. Another example of war’s harsh reality here is that in wars especially in the Middle Ages, the winning side does whatever they want and some scenes of that show this includes the very graphic part when Karman Bey brutally hung the corpses of the people of Nysa outside the city’s walls including women and children to send a message to his enemies that this would happen if they messed with him, while another disturbing one would be when Alexios’ forces had captured so many of Karman’s men to the point that a Turkish slave would be even cheaper to buy than a sheep. Other than these scenes, to put it short the novel’s war sequences show more than just fighting but the suffering all this fighting has brought to the people in the lands these battles were fought in and how soldiers like Alexios and the other characters were affected by it with the loss of loved ones and PTSD caused by it that makes people make such big decisions, in the story’s case it would be rebelling against the current emperor when they have already faced enough of his incompetent rule. On the other hand, the novel too shows that war in is not only a matter of fighting and giving or following orders but has a lot to do with both logistics and what could be called human resource management which is the case of Alexios who not only has to be a strong, brilliant, and inspiring general but a good manager that has to keep his troops in line especially since in the story he is in command of a multiethnic army consisting of Byzantines (Romans) and Turks that are not always in good terms with each other, while at the same time it also shows that a lot of funds and supplies are needed to fight wars. By showing this harsh reality as a result of war, it makes the novel a much more realistic one for readers in showing what life was like back then.

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Byzantine army under the Palaiologos Dynasty, 13th and 14th centuries

It is not a plain black and white story as when reading “The Usurper” you would come to realize that there is in fact no good guys and no bad guys in the story as it clearly shows the reality of war where no one is neither good nor bad. This then is not the kind of story where the Byzantines being the heroes are immediately seen as the good guys while the Turks being the enemy would automatically be seen as the villains, instead it shows more conflict with both bad and good in each side of the war, which then adds a lot more complexity into the story therefore making it a more fascinating read.

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Meme of Alexios Philanthropenos

The story’s lead character Alexios Philanthropenos no matter how much of an honorable man he is also has a conflicted personality which is mostly being that he makes his emotions get the best of him such as in the scene where he had the corrupt governor of Philadelphia Anastasios who allowed his city to fall to the Turks and escaped like a coward exposed in public being tied to a flagpole without knowing that the people would beat him to death. At the same time, the story also shows that the Turks even if they are Byzantium’s enemies are not entirely bloodthirsty savages as seen in the case of Osman who even if a Turk was as much as an honorable man the way Alexios was, while the main Turkish antagonist Karman Bey no matter how fearsome is portrayed also with a soft human side which was seen when he broke down into tears after his son was decapitated in battle. As for the Byzantines in this story, you can immediately tell that they are not at all the good guys despite being the protagonists, and even though Alexios may already come out as the virtuous and heroic Byzantine, most of the Byzantines who this story is on the side of are portrayed as corrupt, scheming, and petty such as the governors of Asia Minor and the emperor Andronikos II himself who is in fact the story’s secret villain as he is the one Alexios decides to strike against at the end despite failing. Here I would really think that Andronikos II is true enough the secret villain who just basically at first hides his true self which is that of a corrupt tyrant emperor, basically how the people of Asia Minor saw him in the story, while Alexios too had seen his uncle the same way the people of Asia Minor did except that Alexios at first wanted to show he was loyal to his uncle the emperor.

It tries to be authentic to the era basically in the sense that despite it being set in the Byzantine Empire, the Byzantine characters in the story such as Alexios, Theodore, Michael, and the emperor Andronikos II are not referred to as “Byzantines” but as “Romans”, thus showing the continuity of the Roman Empire of the past to the medieval era Byzantine Empire. The word “Byzantine” referring to the Byzantine Empire was true enough only coined in the 16th century after the fall of Byzantium which was in 1453 as in the Byzantine era, the Byzantine people did in fact still call themselves “Romans” despite no longer speaking Latin and having a very Greek cultural identity which was ever more evident especially from the 13th century onwards as a result of the 57-year dissolution of Byzantium by the 4th Crusade (1204-1261) which the exiled Byzantines in this time period rebuilt themselves as by rediscovering their Ancient Greek roots. The dialogue of the characters too mostly remains authentic to the Middle Ages as modern terms are hardly spoken by the story’s characters, while the word “Byzantine” is in fact never at all mentioned, thus making it truly authentic to the era it is set in.

For books that generally discuss Byzantium and its history, it is quite an innovation mostly because of its war-adventure-drama which is not so much common in Byzantine books whether written in modern times or back then in the Byzantine era. This kind of action epics like this book was not so much a common genre of literature back then in the Byzantine era wherein only a few books written back then in the Byzantine era have this kind of action-packed genre such as The Alexiad by Anna Komnene written in the 12th century and the epic poem Digenes Akritas. At this day, from what I know of there are not that much detailed war epic novels set in the Byzantine era, therefore making this one a unique Byzantine era novel. Most people would usually remember Byzantium either for endless religious debates and schisms or epic battles with thousands of Cataphract cavalry soldiers or large sized Varangians Guards clashing at enemy armies also numbering in the thousands or ships with superpowered weapons like Greek Fire. This book then truly shows that the Byzantines were not only either obsessed with religious debates or had massive battles but did in fact fight smaller scale battles no longer with large professional armies but with a mixed force of both professional troops, local Greek and foreign mercenaries, and even foreign allies which would then be the main difference of warfare in the late Byzantine era. Another unique feature of this book is that not only does it talk about battles and warfare in the late Byzantine era which is rarely talked about, but more so that it talks about it in a first-person perspective which makes the happenings in the story seem even more real.   

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Map of Asia Minor and Greece at the end of the 13th century

Its ending has a very surprising element but at the same time is still a climactic one. Now for those who know the history of the late Byzantine Empire, you would definitely come across the story of Alexios Philanthropenos and discover that no matter how successful he was in his campaigns, he still met a tragic end of being betrayed and blinded. When reading the book however, you will get to see Alexios in a different angle as you will definitely be invested in his character as well as in the other characters in the story, which then makes the climax a shocking one especially when finding out who the traitor was that would stop Alexios’ uprising against the emperor. When Alexios and his army arrive in Nicaea on their way to Constantinople in chapter 22, it is here when Alexios’ rebellion is suddenly crushed not by forces sent by the emperor but by his own men, and the traitor here happens to be the Cretan mercenary captain Konstas who has his men surround Alexios with their weapons, and true enough when reading this part, I was shocked. However, when looking back at the rest of the story, you can already tell that Konstas may possibly turn traitor as ever since Osman had been introduced in chapter 5 Konstas had already expressed his disliking of Alexios allying with Osman and towards the end Konstas also does not approve of Alexios rising up against his uncle while everyone else does, as true enough Konstas where the story begins was not recruited by Alexios to his army but a mercenary from Venetian held Crete despite being a Byzantine Greek hired by the emperor to be under Alexios’ command, and Konstas on the other hand also had some noble blood as his family was once from the Byzantine nobility of Crete before the Venetians took over in 1204 during the 4th Crusade, and having this noble Greek blood then made Konstas have a strong disgust towards the Turks.

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Blinding in the Byzantine Empire

It is then Konstas who orders that Alexios be blinded after Konstas’ men defeat Alexios in a small skirmish at the governor’s palace in Nicaea, and here Alexios is blinded by Philippos the young boy in Konstas’ army who however happens to only partially blind Alexios by burning his eyes with a burnt knife coated in pig fat as Philippos true enough admired Alexios. The part of Alexios’ blinding however would later turn out to be confusing as when reading what he has been saying, it still seems like he was still able to see even if he has been blinded. When asking the author about the part of Alexios’ blinding if he was actually blinded or just “fake blinded”, he says that there is not really much information about how Alexios was blinded but what is known is that those who were close to the emperor like Alexios were just lightly blinded which was how Alexios was blinded here, thus the author made Alexios’ blinding be just a partial blinding due to the fact that in real history, Alexios 30 years later when being called out of retirement to once again deal with the Turkish raiders in the Meander Valley and later against the Latins in Lesbos had gotten his eyesight back. True enough, the incompetent emperor Andronikos II too would end up being overthrown by his grandson Andronikos III Palaiologos in 1328, and Alexios back back in military service would serve the new emperor who would turn out to be a much stronger one than his grandfather. The last chapter then also mentions for the first and only time in the entire story where Alexios is not present and this is when Konstas returns to Alexios’ men outside Nicaea making up a lie that Alexios was ambushed and killed by Osman’s Turks as a way to turn Alexios’ Greek soldiers against Osman and his Turks basically for Konstas to have his revenge against Osman while Osman was in fact present with them. Konstas’ mistake is however realized by his men when Michael the advisor questions Alexios’ death as Alexios’ body was not returned, then Philippos later comes in telling the whole truth about Alexios’ blinding which angers Konstas who is then suddenly killed by Philippos right when Konstas tries to escape by his horse, and following Konstas’ death all the survivors go their own ways with Michael shortly afterwards dying, Philippos never to be heard from again, and Osman returning to ruling his tribe now knowing the ways of Byzantines which would give him an advantage years later when he declares war on Byzantium as with his ally Alexios gone, he no longer had any loyalty to Byzantium.

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Basileus Andronikos II Palaiologos

Alexios following his blinding faces the wrath of the emperor who is disappointed with how Alexios disobeyed orders when he was believed to be loyal but Alexios in return warns the emperor that because he was blinded and removed from command, Byzantine rule over Asia Minor would sooner or later be lost and therefore being the emperor Andronikos II’s fault, though rather than being executed Alexios is given the merciful option by Andronikos II to be returned back to his house in Thessaloniki where the whole story began. This kind of scenario here of a general being Alexios having popular support and usurping the throne from an incompetent emperor therefore shows that Byzantium even as late as the last years of the 13th century still retains some of its republican traditions from the Roman Republic, the predecessor of Byzantium’s predecessor which was the Roman Empire, meaning that the spirit of Rome still did in fact live on as Byzantium true enough did not have such a law wherein an emperor had divine rights.

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Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire

 

Suggestions and Conclusion        

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Overall, I would say that “The Usurper” by Emanuele Rizzardi is surprisingly a well-made historical novel that is actually quite engaging and does a great job especially in getting into the mind of a long dead person which is Alexios Philanthropenos, however there are still some things I would want to change in the narrative if I were to rewrite it.

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Byzantine art recreated- Chrysobull of Andronikos II (left) presenting the document to Christ (right), art by myself

Basically, the one thing that I would really change if I were to rewrite it would be to give more of a role to the emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos rather than just portraying him as the man who sends Alexios on a mission and at the end just out of nowhere turns out to be the secret villain. Andronikos II is after all the person on the cover of the book making it quite ironic that his part in this story is actually quite minimal, therefore I would suggest that in order to make the story have more angles to it, rather than just showing the side of Alexios along his thoughts and feelings about the situation his empire is in, it is also fair to show how his counterpart the emperor also feels about the situation in Asia Minor as well showing how incompetent the emperor is in ruling by surrounding himself with intellectuals and constructing impressive churches for only him to see which would further establish the emperor’s character and his corrupt court that the story keeps mentioning of. At the same time, I have also noticed that there are no scenes in the entire novel set in the imperial capital Constantinople itself, thus if I were to rewrite it, I would include scenes taking place in Constantinople describing the imperial palace and the Hagia Sophia simultaneously with Alexios on his campaigns against the Turks in Asia Minor. I would also suggest that it would be better if there were scenes in Constantinople as a way to show some contrast between the cosmopolitan capital and the war-torn countryside in Asia Minor, while also to show how much Byzantium had drastically changed with Constantinople once being a thriving metropolis shrinking down to a shadow of its former self due to the damage inflicted on it when it was sacked by the 4th Crusade in 1204 and during the 57 years of Latin occupation that followed it. The other thing I would add if I were to rewrite the story would be to add more details about Alexios’ life such as inserting a few flashback scenes here and there that take you back to Alexios’ childhood to further establish his character as the story as the story only goes as far as just mentioning Alexios’ father the general Michael Tarchaneiotes dying from malaria thus failing to achieve his objective of conquering the city of Tralles in Asia Minor which Alexios manages to succeed in doing thus finishing off what his late father failed to do, therefore if I were to rewrite it I would also want to discuss some more about Alexios’ father Michael as a way to also further establish the character of Alexios and his life when growing up. Lastly, I would also want to add more visuals to the book such as a section at the center with plates depicting maps, costumes, soldiers, and weapons of this period in Byzantine history in order to make it much more engaging, but at least the book does in fact start off with a detailed map of Byzantine Greece and Asia Minor at the story’s setting as a way to guide you through the places mentioned in the book. Other than that, this is more or less all the suggestions I have for the novel and when it comes to omitting things, I would say that the novel did not really have anything that I would find unnecessary that I would think should be omitted.

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Map of the Asia Minor locations in The Usurper
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Constantinople in the Byzantine era artwork, artist unknown

          

And now I have come to the end of this article reviewing “The Usurper”, and to sum it all up I would say that the entire novel itself was actually a good one, however I strongly suggest that it is something to be read by readers who are more informed about the history of Byzantium, otherwise for those who are not familiar with Byzantine history it may just seem like a usual medieval era war-adventure-drama. What really makes “The Usurper” unique I would say is that it uses a Byzantine era setting for this said genre which is something not very common, therefore making it a unique innovation, and not only that since this book also does a great job in getting into the mind of a long dead Byzantine general thus finally giving justice to this unknown Byzantine hero that deserves more praise which is Alexios Philanthropenos who could have in fact saved Byzantine Asia Minor from the Turkish raids if only he were not betrayed and blinded. Now if Alexios did manage to succeed in his rebellion and did take the throne from his uncle Andronikos II, then perhaps history itself would be different as possibly with Alexios as Emperor Alexios VI then Byzantine Asia Minor would be much more defended unlike how it was under Andronikos II, and also due to Alexios’ alliance with Osman and his tribe- at least only in this story- then possibly the Byzantines and Osman’s Turks would never be in conflict with each other, thus they would even be much stronger if united especially against a more powerful enemy such as the Mongols. Of course, all this I’m saying about what could happen if Alexios did take throne is all speculation but even though Alexios did not achieve his objective to revive the old glory of Byzantium, the corrupt and incompetent rule of Andronikos II did eventually come to an end when his grandson overthrew him in 1328, and the reign of the new emperor Andronikos III (1328-1341) was in fact a better time for the Byzantines in their last years, although it would be the last time Byzantium would be a strong power as after his sudden death in 1341 it would be forever downhill for the Byzantines until the fall of their empire in 1453. On the other hand, I would also say that “The Usurper” does have some potential to be either a movie or a series, although when reading I could not really visualize on how it could be a movie or series and who to cast for the roles, thus I did not do any fan casting for the story’s characters in this article, but if it were to soon enough become a movie or series then it would be really great.

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Lo Stendardo di Giove (2021) by Emanuele Rizzardi

Before finishing off, I would like to say it once again that I truly thought of the book as a very interesting and engaging one especially for someone like me who is a Byzantine history enthusiast, and when already translated into English I would definitely want to read Emanuele Rizzardi’s 3rd novel Lo Stendardo di Giove as it is true enough set in one of my favorite historical settings which is that of the late Roman Empire and early Byzantine era. Now I would like to thank the author Emanuele Rizzardi for answering a few questions I have asked him about the novel itself which was very helpful for this article while I would like to congratulate him too for a job well-done in showing an unknown side of Byzantine history, and once more I highly recommend this book especially to those who are very interested in Byzantine history and want to know more about lesser-known periods like this. Up next for this site, my long-running Byzantine Alternate History series will finally reach its final chapter set in the 15th century which is perhaps going to feature the most epic story so far in my 12-part series, so stay tuned for what comes next on my site and thank you all for reading this!     

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter VII- A Retelling of the Bizarre Byzantine Renaissance and the Macedonian (Amorian) Dynasty

Posted by Powee Celdran

DISCLAIMER: Although this is mostly a work of fiction, it is largely based on true events and characters. It seeks to alter the course of actual events that transpired in the 9th and 10th centuries AD. This story will begin with events that happened in real history but will become fictional as it progresses.

Previous Story: Byzantine Alternate History Chapter VI- 9th Century

Look, I’m giving you these rules, so that you will not leave the best advices and the public interest in the light of past experiments and filtered information.” -Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, De Administrando Imperio

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Welcome to the 7th chapter of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! Now before I begin this very lengthy article that will span more than a hundred years, I just have to say that I can’t believe I now reached this far in my series basically being more than halfway through the 1,100-year history of Byzantium, thus a milestone indeed! Last time, in chapter VI of this 12-part series, I discussed a possible and highly popular what if scenario of the Byzantine empress Irene of Athens actually marrying the rising star of the time, the Frankish emperor Charlemagne in 802 which could have happened but never did. The previous story too talked about one large united Frankish-Roman Empire as a result of this said marriage that would be a European superpower like the Roman Empire of old and would be powerful enough to turn the tide against the Byzantine Empire’s two mortal enemies and greatest threats being the Arab Abbasid Caliphate in the east and the Bulgarian Empire in the north. Though this marriage would been necessary only in reversing all of the Byzantine economic and military setbacks in the short-term but in the long-term this union of both Byzantine (Eastern Roman) and Carolingian Frankish Empires would only be rather confusing as both halves of the empire (eastern and western) were of different cultures and religions to put it short, and the succession system would be even more complicated. Now since the alternate history scenarios featured per chapter in this series do not continue with each other, the said fictional marriage from the last chapter and the union of the two empires would not continue here, and again as each story in this series is a stand-alone, this chapter would again begin discussing real historical events which will have a twist as it progresses. True enough, this marriage between Irene and Charlemagne was not that necessary in order to reverse all of Byzantium’s setbacks as about a century after this marriage was supposed to happen, Byzantium was long done with its dystopian-like Dark Ages period that the past 3 chapters were set in, and was now in its second golden age- the first one being in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565)- and now here out of Dark Ages, the Byzantine Empire as the 9th century ends became a cultural and military power in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean and together with the Frankish and Bulgarian Empires, one of the 3 major powers of early medieval Europe as a whole. For almost 3 centuries, the Byzantine Empire plunged into a dark age where the empire rapidly lost a great amount of territory and was under attack by enemies on all sides forcing them to fight for centuries on the defensive whether against the Arab powers from the east or the Bulgars from the north, but in the second half of the 9th century, things would all of a sudden change for the Byzantines. The turn of the tide for the Byzantines in the latter 9th century however did not come out of the blue, rather it mostly happened because of the luck of having good geography as in the east, the powerful Abbasid Caliphate being too large to govern started dissolving with its authority becoming decentralized into smaller states or Emirates and, in the west, the same thing too happened to the powerful Carolingian Frankish Empire of Charlemagne as part of Frankish tradition was to divide the empire among a ruler’s successors, thus these situations would give an advantage for Byzantium in the middle to rise again. The 9th century would see the Byzantine Empire slowly rise again into a dominant world power while the 10th century which would be this story’s main focus would see the Byzantine Empire literally in its second golden age of cultural and military power that other powers would grow to respect and fear it, but despite the great power and influence the Byzantines would gain here, they were still far from being an undefeatable force, as they would still face some military defeats to the Arabs and Bulgars while their imperial authority would still be challenged by the western world again in a “Cold War” like situation. Now since this series features one chapter per century, this one would primarily be set in the 10th century with Byzantium again reaching its peak of power and influence but between the previous chapter and this one, there will be a massive time jump as the last chapter was set in the very early part of the 9th century. Despite the massive time jump here of over 100 years, there will still be a lot mentioned about the 9th century in this story’s background as the 9th century had a very crucial role in Byzantine history especially in shaping the second golden age in the 10th century as the 9th century saw the Dark Ages of the Byzantine Empire end, as well as the pointless issue of Iconoclasm or the breaking of icons, the dissolution of the Abbasid Caliphate in the east which allowed the Byzantines to turn the tide of war to the offensive against them, the spread of Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium to the Balkans wherein the Bulgars would finally become Christian, and the rise of the most colorful dynasty in Byzantine history, the Macedonian Dynasty which was founded by Basil I the Macedonian in 867 in a rather violent away, and again Basil I was another of the Byzantine emperors who came from humble origins who would go from a peasant, to a stable boy and wrestler, to a bodyguard, and finally become the sole emperor founding a dynasty that would last for over 200 years till the mid 11th century, but the big question is if this Macedonian Dynasty really existed as Basil I’s son and successor was Leo VI who continued the dynasty through his descendants was believed to not be his son but the son of the last emperor of the Amorian Dynasty Michael III who Basil killed, and this story now will exactly do that in discussing the possibility of the Macedonian Dynasty not really existing but in fact still being the Amorian Dynasty of the 9th century. This dynasty whether you would stick to it being the Macedonian or go with the possibility of it being the Amorian Dynasty continued would feature colorful rulers whether they were from the bloodline of Basil I or were powerful generals from the wealthy landed aristocracy that married into it, and these colorful characters of this powerful dynasty from the 9th to 10th centuries in chronological order would include its founder being a wrestler of low birth who became emperor, a serious scholar, a vengeful drunk, an unlikely admiral with a great ability in ruling, an intellectual snob obsessed with court rituals, a fun-loving party-boy, a highly skilled but ruthless general without much political and diplomatic skills, and an overall perfect mix of a soldier and diplomat emperor. The 10th century then would be forever remembered for these characters but also because it was very action-packed and featured a lot of the political struggles and extravagance Byzantium would be remembered for and henceforth the word “byzantine” meaning complicated. At the same time, I also have to admit that the 10th century under the Macedonian Dynasty is my favorite period in Byzantine history and was the particular period that got me so into Byzantine history. This period too is one of the most popular- next of course to Justinian I’s reign in the 6th century- in the history of Byzantium that recently, a graphic novel Theophano: Byzantine Tale, which I also made an article about before, was set in this era with the lead character being Empress Theophano who shares the story’s title name, and Theophano too was one of the major players of the 10th century Byzantine golden age who comes in the middle and latter part of the century being as the novel suggested a woman of low birth who married into the imperial family first to the fun-loving party-boy emperor mentioned above which was Romanos II (r. 959-963) who was from the direct bloodline of the Macedonian (Amorian) Dynasty and afterwards following his death she would be married to the highly skilled but ruthless general mentioned above which was Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969) who after marrying Theophano would become emperor. Basically, no matter how small Theophano’s part in the bigger picture would look like, she did indeed play a major role in continuing the Macedonian Dynasty by giving birth to two sons who would be emperors later on being Basil II (r. 976-1025) and Constantine VIII (r. 1025-1028), and it was Theophano who also served as a link between all the influential people of this era, while at the same time being an ambitious woman which was something quite unheard of then, she also gets some bad reputation as a seductress and murderer that the poisoning and death of her father-in-law Constantine VII in 959 and of her husband Romanos II in 963 and also for plotting the successful assassination of her second husband Nikephoros II in 969. The big twist for this story then would be in its latter half, where if Theophano who in real history only came into the imperial family by chance never got the chance to do so, how different would the history of Byzantium in the 10th century be if Theophano simply did not come into the picture and just lived a simple life away from the politics of the imperial family?     

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

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Note: Since this story is set in the 9th and 10th centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine characters will be referred to as Byzantines, not Romans.  

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

For this story, I am back again to basically writing it alone except that the major inspiration for this story’s alternate history plot is from the recent Byzantine era graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale (Instagram: @byzantine_tales) by Spyros Theocharis (Instagram: @spyrosem) which I read very early this year and highly enjoyed that I even made an article reviewing the novel which included a fan casting for the Byzantine era characters for a potential film and a historical analysis of it made before I even began doing this Byzantine Alternate History series.

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Theophano: A Byzantine Tale graphic novel

Now don’t get me wrong here as I did indeed totally enjoy the graphic novel and its plot and because I enjoyed it and it has intrigued me a lot, I ended up involving its plot into my fan fiction series except without its lead character Theophano for the sake of experimenting which I usually do in this series, and for me this was also what I thought would be the best alternate history topic to feature for the 10th century. For those who do not know about this novel and want to know more about the real history of 10th century Byzantium, you can check their website linked here and order a copy of it, but for those who already know the story and want to see a different side of it without its lead character, this story here being chapter VII of my Byzantine Alternate History series will be exactly that. As I mentioned earlier, the Macedonian Dynasty era or Byzantine Renaissance from 867 to the end of the 10th century is my favorite era in all of Byzantine history as it was also the first era in Byzantine history that I read about 2 years ago which then suddenly got me so passionate about Byzantium, and although I already knew about Byzantium before by learning about Justinian I’s era in school, it was this particular period of Byzantium’s second golden age which I discovered by myself that got me so into Byzantine history, therefore this story that I am writing here will be an extra special one for me. The Theophano graphic novel too was a very great story basically because it was set in my favorite timeline in Byzantine history featuring some of Byzantium’s most colorful historical figures and intrigues coming to life, though despite Theophano taken out the picture thus altering the course of the said graphic novel’s plot, the well-made illustrations for the novel by Chrysa Sakel (Instagram: @chrysasakel) would still appear here as a visual guide to 10th century Byzantium and so would be the valuable primary visual source of this era the Madrid Skylitzes in which these illustrations would frequently appear here as well as its counterpart the Russian Primary Chronicle, and so would the artworks from various artists I know online that create Byzantine fan art including Ediacar, Amelianvs, Spatharokandidatos, Akitku, HistoryGold777, Ancientcitylullaby, and Justinianusthegreat. Now back to this story’s style, it will be very much like chapter III of this series which focused on Justinian I’s reign in terms of storytelling as like chapter III, this one will go with the flow of real history meaning that there would not be so much side stories, or more personal touches, or entirely fictional or highly embellished scenarios as the other chapters did, rather this chapter would be straight to the point sticking to historical events going in the same flow as they did in reality for the sake of conveniency as this chapter will cover more than a hundred years of story, but along the way, there will be a number of changes to the narrative and the most significant one first being the Macedonian Dynasty actually being the Amorian Dynasty continued and in latter half of this story when the character of Theophano herself is removed from the plot. In real history, Theophano came into the imperial family by chance when Romanos II as the imperial heir to his father Constantine VII chose her to be his wife, though it is still speculated whether Theophano (originally Anastaso) was simply a commoner from Greece and a daughter of an innkeeper who was rumored for her exceptional beauty that imperial heir Romanos chose her to be his wife or that she came from a minor noble family, but the graphic novel goes with the first theory, and when married she gets herself involved in the toxic schemes of the imperial court. This story however will have a different take on Theophano by making it seem like she did not exist at all and so the big plot here would be that Romanos II simply never heard about her, therefore he would never marry but the rest of the story will simply follow the events of real history which means Romanos II like in reality would die in 963 very young after only 4 years in power and would be succeeded by the Nikephoros II Phokas as emperor except here he would not marry Theophano as she wouldn’t even be around and like in real history would still be assassinated in 969 by his general John Tzimiskes wherein this story would end. At first, it may seem like Theophano did not really have any significant role but later on she would as her son Basil II would become the sole emperor of Byzantium following the death of John I Tzimiskes in 976 and as emperor, Basil II would begin with a rough start but at the end would achieve the impossible of conquering the entire Bulgarian Empire thus becoming one of Byzantium’s greatest conquering emperors known as “Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer” making the Byzantine Empire be once again at its greatest extent of territory, but this would only be achieved in the next century. Since this story’s main plotline is only limited to the 10th century while it was only in the early 11th century in real history when Byzantium reached its peak of power and influence covering a vast amount of territory again after the conquest of the entire Balkans, this story will squeeze in the full Byzantine conquest of the Bulgarian Empire into the 10th century before it ends as a way to give this chapter a dramatic conclusion, and therefore this means that Basil II was not really necessary for the conquest of Bulgaria as any other competent soldier emperor could have done it too, therefore, I would also say Theophano’s part was not really of any significance considering her being Basil II’s mother. On the other hand, there was a lot of research put into this story and rewriting the course of Byzantine history and I would have to thank the Youtube channels that feature Byzantine history in detail which are as usual Kings and Generals, Eastern Roman History, and Thersites the Historian, and of course my ultimate source the highly comprehensive History of Byzantium Podcast by Robin Pierson, and at the same time my Lego films from my channel No Budget Films set in this era will be featured here as well.  

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (purple) at its medieval apogee, beginning of the 11th century

Watch this video below to learn more about the Byzantine emperors from the Macedonian Dynasty (from Hellenic History Series).


 

Before beginning the main part of the story itself, there is still some more I have to say about why the 10th century under the Macedonian Dynasty is my favorite period in the history of Byzantium and this is not only because it is fascinating with colorful characters and it was the first part of Byzantine history that I fully read about which got me into it, but it is rather also because it was the century of the Byzantine Empire. Now what I meant about the 10th century being “the century” of Byzantium is that it was the century Byzantium would be remembered for or basically its golden age the same way the Renaissance in the 15th century was for Italy, the 16th century for Spain, the era of Napoleon in the late 18th and early 19th centuries for France, and the Victorian Era and Industrial Revolution in the 19th century for England which means for Byzantium it was its most eventful era not necessarily meaning everything went their way but rather so much had happened with so many colorful characters and events, therefore making this era known as the “Byzantine Renaissance”, though on the other hand this era too happens to be quite insider being mostly only known to Byzantine history enthusiasts. For Byzantium, the 6th century under Justinian I the Great could also be considered Byzantium’s great moment but then it did not last that long and it was also only under one emperor, and on the other hand, Byzantium was still a Roman superpower unlike here in this chapter set in the 10th century, the eventful era for the empire was not under just one emperor but a whole dynasty of colorful rulers and here too Byzantium was growing into its height of power and influence as a culturally and linguistically Greek empire in the Middle Ages but of course still the Roman Empire (Basileia ton Rhomaion in Greek)in name. This chapter will exactly show how Byzantium was the cultural and military power of the 10th century as the extensive military conquests would feature heavily here wherein the powerful Byzantine army did not just fight to defend their borders anymore but gain the upper hand to launch attacks deep into Arab territory in the Middle East where the Byzantines had not ventured to in the past 3 centuries therefore regaining a large amount of lands they lost in the past, while at the same time Constantinople as the imperial capital was the “desire of the world” with advanced technology and imperial extravagance in art and architecture while the empire itself had a very organized ruling system despite all the civil wars, ambitious aristocratic generals, court intrigues, scheming eunuchs, and corruption behind it, though all of this combined whether good or bad would still make Byzantium what it really is. Of course, what also made the 10th century a very interesting time were the colorful yet checkered rulers of Byzantium including the usurping and not so well-educated admiral Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944), the highly cultured intellectual Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 945-959), the tough and ruthless military emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), and the more or less perfect soldier-diplomat emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976) who all had a part in shaping the golden age of the Byzantine Empire, thus all these characters will be featured heavily here. Now the word “Renaissance” means a “rebirth of something” and for Byzantium the 10th century would see its rebirth or rather revival as a superpower after almost 3 centuries of being in the dark having to fight for its survival, and to set the stage for the main storyline of the 10th century, this chapter will go back to Byzantium in the 9th century under the Amorian Dynasty (820-867) where the dystopian-like Byzantine Dark Ages ended and its Renaissance began. The Amorian era would be discussed in this story’s background to discuss how the Byzantine Renaissance began with the turning of the tide of war against the Arabs to the offensive as well as to give a background to the bloody politics of the Byzantine court. It was also in the time of the Amorian Dynasty particularly in the reign of its last emperor Michael III (842-867) when the unlikely founder of the Macedonian Dynasty Basil I rose to power and it was he who killed Michael III and began the Macedonian Dynasty but as mention earlier, when looking into the matter carefully, it seems like the Macedonian Dynasty never really happened except for Basil I’s reign (867-886) as his son and successor Leo VI (r. 886-912) is said to have been the illegitimate son of Michael III the Amorian, and true enough even historians sometimes agree to this meaning that the well-known Macedonian Dynasty that ruled for almost 2 centuries until 1056 was actually not the Macedonian Dynasty but the Amorian Dynasty continued. For the sake conveniency however, historians still refer to Leo VI as Basil I’s son and part of the Macedonian Dynasty and so are his descendants, but this story for the sake of creating a plot twist will go with the speculation of Leo VI being actually Michael III’s son and not Basil I’s so the Dynasty here despite being known as the Macedonian Dynasty is actually the Amorian Dynasty continued, therefore this story will refer to Leo VI not as Basil I’s son as well as not a Macedonian but an Amorian and so would his descendants. In this chapter, the story of Byzantium will get even more exciting yet crazy as it will cover a lot of interesting events including a long war against the Bulgarian Empire under its tsar Simeon (r. 893-897), the continued war against the Arabs except this time with the Byzantines finally gaining the upper hand, religious debates and controversies still continuing, the spread of Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium to the Balkans, endless court politics and rivalries with the eunuchs involved, ambitious generals setting their eyes on the throne, and the tensions with Western Europe again brewing in the same old “Cold War” situation as before and here despite Charlemagne from the previous chapter gone, there will be a new Frankish ruler like him to challenge the authority of Byzantium which would be the first Holy Roman emperor Otto I the Great (r. 962-973). On the other hand, this chapter will also cover Byzantium’s northern neighbor the Bulgarian Empire a lot, as well as new people from the north coming in to the picture either to help or harm the Byzantines and these will include the nomadic Magyars and Pechenegs, as well as the Rus or Norsemen that would establish the Kievan Rus’ State in what would be medieval Russia. Now since this chapter will cover a long amount of time spanning more than a hundred years, it would be told in a fast-paced action-packed documentary style which at some points would be something like a mockumentary in tone as this chapter would somewhat be a parody to the Theophano graphic novel, therefore would have in some parts a sarcastic tone as we skim through the years and events.

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Guide to the Thematic System of the Byzantine army (from Wikipedia); this article contains a lot of terms of Byzantine army units
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Genealogy of the Macedonian (Amorian) Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire (867-1056), without Theophano and her descendants (crossed out in red) in this story’s case

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter VI- What if Charlemagne and Irene Married and United their Empires?

A Review/ Analysis/ and Fan-Casting for Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter III: Justinian I the Great Saves his Empire from the Plague and Joins his Campaigns

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

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

A Guide to the Themes of the Byzantine Empire

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

All Sieges of Constantinople

Ethnic Origins of the Byzantine Emperors


The Major Players of this Story’s Byzantine Renaissance Epic:

Emperor Leo VI “the Wise”- Byzantine emperor (886-912); image found in the main story itself

Zoe Karbonopsina- Byzantine empress and empress-regent, wife of Leo VI; image found in the main story itself

Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos– Byzantine emperor (913-959), son of Leo VI and Zoe; image found below

Alexander- Byzantine emperor (912-913), half-brother of Leo VI

Nikolaos Mystikos- Patriarch of Constantinople (901-907/ 912-925)

Simeon the Great- Tsar of the Bulgarian Empire (893-927)

Romanos I Lekapenos- Byzantine admiral turned emperor (920-944), father-in-law of Constantine VII

John Kourkouas- Byzantine general, supreme commander of the eastern forces under Romanos I

Helena Lekapene- Byzantine empress, Daughter of Romanos I, wife of Constantine VII

Bardas Phokas the Elder- Byzantine general of the powerful Phokas clan

Romanos II- Byzantine emperor (959-963), son of Constantine VII and Helena

Joseph Bringas- Palace eunuch and advisor of Romanos II

Basil Lekapenos- Palace eunuch and advisor, son of Romanos I

Nikephoros II Phokas- Byzantine general and emperor (963-969), son of Bardas Phokas the Elder, “Pale Death of the Saracens”

Leo Phokas the Younger- Byzantine general, younger brother of Nikephoros II, son of Bardas Phokas the Elder

John I Tzimiskes- Byzantine general and emperor (969-976), nephew of Nikephoros and Leo

Sayf al-Dawla- Arab Emir of Aleppo (945-967)

Polyeuctus- Patriarch of Constantinople (956-970)

Otto I the Great- King of East Frankia and Holy Roman Emperor (936-973)

Zoe Porphyrogenita- Daughter of Constantine VII and Helena, Byzantine empress and wife of Nikephoros II and John I in this story

Sviatoslav I “the Brave”- Grand Prince of the Kievan Rus’ (945-972)

Bardas Skleros- Byzantine general, and eventual emperor in this story

Bardas Phokas the Younger- Byzantine general, son of Leo Phokas the Younger

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

Background Guide: Byzantine characters (blue), Bulgarians (dark orange), Arabs (green), Franks (gold), Rus (dark red)


Part I.

Prologue- The Amorian Dynasty and the Rise of Basil the Macedonian, the wrestler turned emperor (811-886)        

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At some time in 811 was born the future emperor Basil the Macedonian to peasant parents in the Byzantine Theme of Macedonia near the city of Adrianople, though its name can be misleading as this Theme was not in Macedonia itself but in Thrace. Though Basil was born a peasant and known as the Macedonian, he was in fact not a Macedonian but in his father’s side an Armenian descended from the Arsacid Dynasty that ruled Armenia (12-428AD) as well as a descendant of the first Byzantine emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337), if you would believe the fabrication made about Basil’s lineage during his reign later on, but in this story’s case his noble lineage would be true. In his mother’s side, Basil was either of Slavic or Greek descent which would still remain unclear but the known fact is that Basil’s father from Byzantine Armenia before Basil was born was resettled into the Theme of Macedonia which was part of the imperial policy to balance ethnic groups across the empire and integrating them with others to prevent a strong sense of unity that could lead to ethnic rebellions. Basil’s early life is not known but it is said, which would be true in this story was that his mother once had a dream wherein a saint told her that her son Basil would one day become emperor no matter how impossible that seemed as they were from a very simple family, but Basil took this prophecy very seriously believing it was his destiny. Some sources though put Basil’s birth around the 830s but also in the Theme of Macedonia hence his nickname “the Macedonian” while other sources say as a child, he was taken into the Bulgarian Empire up north as captive returning to Byzantine Macedonia in the 830s, but this story would simply stick to nothing eventful happening in Basil’s early life except for the prophecy of him becoming emperor. Now let us have a recap of the events in the 9th century which the previous chapter mentioned as well and here let’s begin with 811, the year of Basil I’s birth which was also the same year the Byzantine emperor Nikephoros I the Logothete who overthrew Empress Irene in 802 died in the Battle of Pliska against the Bulgarian forces of the Bulgarian ruler or khan Krum leading to a severe defeat for the Byzantine forces whereas the dead emperor’s skull was turned into Krum’s drinking cup. Nikephoros I though had a son named Staurakios who fought in this battle and survived but badly injured from it that in only 2 months he abdicated as becoming paralyzed, he could not rule properly therefore he retired as a monk dying the next year and had passed the throne to his brother-in-law Michael I Rangabe (r. 811-813) who as emperor had no military experience that in 813, he lost against the Bulgar forces of Krum when his forces deserted him.

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Emperor Leo V the Armenian, Byzantine emperor (r. 813-820)

Not wanting a bloody end, Michael I abdicated and again retired to become a monk and would live up to 844 while the throne was passed to Leo V the Armenian (r. 813-82) the same general that deserted him, who as emperor brought back the old policy of Iconoclasm or the breaking of religious icons which was thought to have ended back in 787 if you remember from the previous chapter, though Leo V was not entirely serious about it but rather only used returning the policy for political reasons to please his soldiers that supported him as they were still hardcore Iconoclasts. Under Leo V though, the Bulgarian threat to Byzantium disappeared when Khan Krum died in 814, however Leo V did not rule long enough and establish a dynasty as in Christmas of 820 an unlikely coup happened when his friend and trusted general Michael the Amorian turned on him and killed him during the Christmas Mass, thus Michael II the Amorian was proclaimed emperor.

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Michael II the Amorian, Byzantine emperor (r. 820-829)

Michael II to justify usurping the throne tried to pretend like he had nothing to do with Leo V’s murder and as emperor he was an able ruler except he lacked education and class, but so did he lack legitimacy that his other general friend together with Leo V which was Thomas the Slav in 821 rose up against him starting a full scale civil war that was as damaging to Byzantium the same way a foreign war would be and this civil war lasted for 2 years until Thomas was defeated and had surrendered in 823 but despite winning a victory, it was a very costly one for Michael II as he ended up burning a big portion of the Byzantine fleet which Thomas controlled and losing a major part of the fleet opened up some regions of the empire to foreign invasion. In 824, the entire island of Crete fell to Arab pirates from Spain who were exiled from the Umayyad Arab Muslim state that controlled most of Spain known as Al-Andalus or rather the Emirate of Cordoba as this group rebelled against the authorities there but failed thus turning to piracy in the Mediterranean, and without a Byzantine fleet to stop them Crete fell to these pirates thus creating the Emirate of Crete which would be a major thorn for the Byzantines’ commercial activities in the Mediterranean from here on as Crete was a very strategic area in the Mediterranean. However, not only Crete had fallen as in 827 Byzantine control of Sicily would begin to slip out when the army of a new Arab power in North Africa known as the Aghlabids first invaded Sicily and here would start the Arab conquest of Byzantine Sicily. Michael II who founded the Amorian Dynasty then died in 829 and would be succeeded by his 24-year-old son Theophilos who unlike his father was very educated and cultured and despite being a Byzantine, he greatly admired the arts, sciences, and general culture of the Islamic Arab world, most especially that of the Abbasid Caliphate based in Baghdad as Theophilos’ idol was the sophisticated and powerful Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (r. 786-809) who had been mentioned significantly in the previous chapter.

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Emperor Theophilos, Byzantine emperor (r. 829-842), son of Michael II

Though Theophilos greatly admired the Abbasid Caliphate in cultural aspects, he was also threatened by them therefore he was committed to fight them in battle which he spent most of his reign doing and had ended either winning some victories but losing great defeats as well such as in 838 wherein Theophilos led the army himself but ended up losing leading to the Abbasid forces penetrating deep into Byzantine Asia Minor and sacking the city of Amorion, the capital of the Anatolic Theme, the empire’s most powerful Theme or military province, but surprisingly this would be Byzantium’s last major defeat to the Arab caliphate. Back in Constantinople, Theophilos was a great patron of the arts and sciences doing just as his idol Harun al-Rashid did with his capital Baghdad by using public funds to construct several luxurious palaces and learning centers, and his patronage of art science would kick-start the Byzantine cultural Renaissance, but at the same time he was also a supporter of Iconoclasm like his father Michael II and Leo V before him though not an extreme one as Theophilos only did it to please his powerful Iconoclast allies in the army, and little would he know that he would be the last Iconoclast emperor whereas his wife the empress Theodora was a strong Iconophile or supporter of religious icons and their veneration.

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Empress Theodora, wife of Emperor Theophilos, empress-regent 842-855

Meanwhile, the threat of the Arabs was still at large as in 841 the Abbasid caliph Al-Mu’tasim launched a massive naval expedition intended to attack Constantinople but it failed as Al-Mu’tasim died in early 842 and so did Theophilos from dysentery and here he would be succeeded by his son Michael III who was only 2-year-old therefore ruling at first under the regency of his mother Empress Theodora, the powerful eunuch Theoktistos, and his uncles Bardas and Petronas who were his mother’s brothers. The first act of Michael III as emperor, although carried out by his mother was finally ending the issue of Iconoclasm wherein a Church Council in Constantinople was held in 843 which then declared Iconoclasm a heresy while the Iconoclast Patriarch of Constantinople John VII Grammatikos was removed from office by force and replaced by the Iconophile Methodios I who would also serve as the young emperor’s regent. This kind of regency council would only be the first one mentioned in this story as it is about to become a standard in Byzantine politics and so would be eunuchs running the government, but another standard that would be set following the end of Iconoclasm was a rebirth in the arts as after all those years of icons being destroyed making art look plain, the art scene of the Byzantine Empire especially in religious paintings found in churches would be ever more impressive than before as a way to make up for all those years these images were being destroyed for no useful reason.

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Byzantine forces defeated by the Bulgars at the Battle of Pliska in 811
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Khan Krum of Bulgaria uses Emperor Nikephoros I’s skull as his drinking cup
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Assassination of Emperor Leo V, Christmas of 820
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Rebellion of Thomas the Slav and civil war 821-823, from the Madrid Skylitzes
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Invasion of Byzantine Crete by the exiled Arabs from Spain, 824
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Invasion of Sicily by the Aghlabid Arabs of North Africa, 827
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The court of Emperor Theophilos, Madrid Skylitzes
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Byzantine army under Theophilos defeated by the Abbasid Arabs at the Battle of Anzen, 838
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End of Iconoclasm and the Restoration of Icons under Empress Theodora and her son the young emperor Michael III, 843

    

With the issue of Iconoclasm done for good and the power of the Abbasid Caliphate in the east suddenly no longer a threat following the decentralization of their state, as well as the with the same kind of dissolution of the powerful Frankish Empire in the west to smaller kingdoms, it seemed like all was well for the Byzantines to kick-start their Renaissance or golden age thus ending the dystopian like Byzantine Dark Ages. Though Iconoclasm had finally come to an end, it was not really the end as soon enough new religious debates and controversies would emerge with one being now the issue over whether the Church should be run by highly spiritual officials or secular ones and another one being the rise of a heretical Christian sect known as the Paulicians in Asia Minor, which although had been around in Eastern Asia Minor and Armenia since the 7th century. As a heretical sect of Christianity, the Paulicians rejected some books of the Old and New Testament and preached against private property and at first, they seemed to be harmless until they had grown to become a political movement in the 9th century.

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Massacre of the Paulicians under Empress Theodora

Theodora as the empress-regent and a strongly Orthodox Christian was heavy on persecuting the heretical Paulicians by force that in less than 2 years into her reign as her son’s regent, about 100,000 Paulicians were brutally put to death under her when they refused to acknowledge their errors and convert to Orthodoxy. The surviving Paulicians fled east to Armenia and to the Arabs and later their leader Karbeas would establish the independent Principality of Tephrike (today’s Divrigi, Turkey) in Eastern Asia Minor with the help of Umar al-Aqta, the Arab Emir of Melitene which was one of the semi-independent states or emirates formed in the border between Byzantium and Abbasid Caliphate as a result of the Abbasids’ decentralization in recent years, and now this new Paulician state would pose a threat to Byzantium. At the same time as the Principality of Tephrike rose, the eunuch Theoktistos who was basically in charge of the empire here made the first attempt to recapture Crete from the Arab pirates there which although failed and in 847, the Patriarch of Constantinople Methodios I died and here the eunuch Ignatios, son of the former emperor Michael I Rangabe thus a grandson of Emperor Nikephoros I who was his mother’s father became the new patriarch, although Ignatios was a highly spiritual person who was against the Church being involved in secular matters, thus here begins the ongoing debate over Church leaders being spiritual or secular which would play a big role in this story.

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Mosaic of Ignatios, Patriarch of Constantinople (847-858/ 867-877)

Now under Theodora and the eunuch Theoktistos, the empire seemed to operating well especially since it suddenly acquired a lot of wealth some time back in Theophilos’ reign when a large source of gold was discovered in the empire’s Armeniac Theme in Asia Minor and it so happened too during the regency of Theoktistos that the Byzantine fleet went as far as sailing to Egypt- which the Byzantines had not done in over 2 centuries- and attacking the Arab held port of Damietta there in 853 to punish the Arabs for their naval raids on the empire. By 855, Michael III had now come of age being 15 and he distrusted both his mother and Theoktistos relying a lot more on his uncles Bardas and Petronas, and a lot of Michael’s issues with his mother and eunuch regent had to do with the usual case of being forced to marry someone he did not like rather than his beloved mistress Eudokia Ingerina.

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Emperor Michael III of Byzantium (r. 842-867), son of Theophilos and Theodora

Michael III however supported by his uncle Bardas succeeded here and Theoktistos was then arrested and executed while the empress Theodora was banished to a monastery for life, which here would be the first of many incidents like these. From 855 onwards Bardas was the effective ruler of the empire as Michael III was still young and at the same time not really a responsible ruler as he prioritized entertainment, partying, horse riding, and drinking with friends over the empire and it was around this time in 857 when the young Michael III would meet the future emperor Basil the Macedonian who had apparently come to Constantinople some time back. A lot of the information about Basil the Macedonian coming into Constantinople and making a name for himself remains to be of legend but would be true in this story’s case as an alternate history story, which means that here Michael III would first meet Basil in the palace’s horse stables with Basil nothing more but a stable boy.

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Basil the Macedonian, peasant turned stable boy, turned wrestler, turned bodyguard of Michael III

Here in 857, the massive 46-year-old Basil would out of the blue impress the emperor when being able to tame a horse nobody could tame but him as he had an ability to communicate with horses and again sometime later Basil would prove his strength as a wrestler when the emperor himself saw Basil wrestling against and defeating the undefeatable Bulgarian champion in a wrestling match with ease, and because of his great strength and unusual abilities, Basil would soon grow to become a favorite of Michael III who would immediately make Basil his bodyguard or personal protector and chamberlain known as the Parakoimomenos in Greek, which although was a position assigned for eunuchs. On the other hand, the emperor’s uncle Bardas would do quite a pretty good job in actually managing the empire and it was under him that the Renaissance of learning and culture would rise as he invested heavily on constructing learning centers, palaces, and richly decorated churches, though he was also a strongly secular person who in 858 forced the reigning patriarch Ignatios to resign wherein Bardas would replace him with his friend the scholar Photios who was a secular person with no religious background as Bardas saw that a politician was needed to be in charge of the Church of Constantinople.

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St. Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople (858-867/ 877-886)

After becoming a priest in only a week, Photios quickly became patriarch though his appointment would cause a lot of tensions and again with the Patriarch of Rome or the pope in the west Nicholas I who had also just been elected as pope in 858 and apparently had backed Ignatios, thus here begins the Photian Schism which dealt with the issue of whether the emperor was to appoint or fire the Patriarch of Constantinople or if it was the job of the pope to do it, thus again making it another heated situation in the rivalry between the Orthodox Church in east and Catholic Church in the west where again it had to do with the pope wanting to assert his supremacy over the Church of Constantinople and the other Churches which included Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria whereas all the heads of these Churches were in fact intended to be equal. Now it would seem that a lot of the reasons for the Byzantine Renaissance to kick-start was due to Bardas’ administration and investments to grow Byzantine culture and literacy but the rising Byzantine Renaissance was also due to military victories and as Bardas was basically responsible for the cultural revival, his brother Petronas was responsible for the military resurgence as in 856 in his campaign against the Paulicians of Tephrike, he happened to go as far east even crossing the Euphrates River in Eastern Asia Minor striking deep into Arab territory being the first to do so in more than 200 years, thus returning to Constantinople with many Arab prisoners of war.

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Tephrike, stronghold of the Paulicians (today’s Divrigi, Eastern Turkey)

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Basil the Macedonian (far left) defeats the Bulgarian wrestler in a wrestling match, Madrid Skylitzes

           

Though things seemed to be going in favor for the Byzantines when it came to expelling Arab raiders from their eastern frontiers more so with the power of the Abbasid Caliphate in decline thus creating smaller Arab emirates and small Georgian and Armenian Christian principalities along the border of Byzantium and the Caliphate, there happened to be a new unknown enemy that would attack Constantinople directly for the first time in 860 while Michael III himself was away in the east battling the Arabs.

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The Kievan Rus’ (Varangians) sail down to Constantinople from Russia, 860

Here in 860, this unknown enemy that attacked Constantinople or at least its suburbs with their longships was the newly forming state of the Kievan Rus’ or basically the predecessor state of Russia and these back people back then were basically Norsemen from the eastern part of Scandinavia (modern day Sweden) better known as Varangians rather than Vikings as Vikings refer more to the Scandinavians from the west (Norway and Denmark) that would come to attack Western Europe while the Varangians from Sweden led by a chief named Rurik would be the ones to sail into Russia and Eastern Europe. As you may all know that the 9th century over here was the era of the Vikings and this included the Varangians who like the Vikings in the west seeing their native land was too cold and overpopulated to farm in, they searched out for land to colonize, and here the Varangians sailed across the Baltic Sea into the rivers of Russia where they would establish trading colonies like Novgorod and Kiev and integrate with the local Slavic population there before establishing their own state there and then sailing out into the Black Sea to Constantinople. The Varangian warriors here better known as the Rus however did not really intend to besiege Constantinople but just lay waste to its suburbs and loot treasure in typical Viking fashion and after they carried out their raid, they simply left the area when Michael III came back.

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Fresco of the Rus’ attack on Constantinople, 860

The Byzantine people however would never forget the fear caused by these warriors as their large sizes, messy hair and beards, and drunken behavior greatly intimidated them though Patriarch Photios claims that the Rus departed because of divine intervention. When doing an investigation on the Rus’ attack, it turned out that it was indirectly caused by the Byzantines as back in Theophilos’ reign, he helped the still remaining Khazar Khanate in Southern Russia and a long-time Byzantine ally construct the Fortress of Sarkel along the Don River which later blocked the Rus’ fleet from coming out to the Black Sea to trade and in revenge for the Byzantines for helping build this fort, they chose to attack Constantinople just to teach Byzantium a lesson. With this attack by the Rus, Photios decided that it was time to make a firm stance in converting the people up north to Christianity as a way to create allies rather than enemies, although Photios was actually doing this as part of the ongoing competition with the Church of Rome, and just like in the 20th century Cold War between the USA and Soviet Union where both were at race to beat each other into blasting off to space, here the Byzantine Empire and Papacy had their own Cold War in a race with each other on which of them would be first to convert the still Pagan Slavs and the still Pagan Bulgarian Empire up north, and apparently the Byzantines won it being first to convert the Slavs as Photios sent two missionaries deep into Central and Eastern Europe.

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

These two Byzantine missionaries Photios sent were the Greek brothers Constantine (renamed Cyril) and Methodius who had known the Slavic language therefore making it easier to spread Orthodox Christianity by preaching it in their native Slavic languages and these brothers would end up spreading Orthodoxy to what is now Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Russia and despite the political agenda of Photios in converting the people of these distant lands just to beat the Church of Rome in doing so, these brothers would be forever remembered as saints and their greatest legacy was in leading to the creation of the Cyrillic Alphabet named after the younger brother St. Cyril which would be the alphabet of many Slavic countries up to this day including Russia, though this would be more of a different story altogether. Back in the empire, Michael III would happen to be too trusting of the people that worked with him like his uncle Bardas who in 859 was promoted to the rank of Kouropalates or Head of the Palace and even Caesar in 862, though in 863 Michael himself led a military campaign together with his other uncle Petronas against an invading army of Abbasid Arabs and forces of their satellite Emirate of Melitene allied with the Paulician forces of Tephrike under Karbeas and here at the Battle of Lalakaon in Paphlagonia (Northern Asia Minor), the Byzantine forces led by Petronas won a decisive victory over the Abbasids and their allies while the Paulicians’ leader Karbeas too was killed here. This victory thus happened to be the turning point wherein the tide of war against the Arabs truly switched to the offensive for the Byzantines and this would be the reality for the Byzantines from here on yet in the following year (864) something else went in favor for the Byzantines and this was with their northern neighbor, the Bulgarian Empire as their ruler Boris I finally chose to convert to Orthodox Christianity thus making Bulgaria fall under the Church of Constantinople and true enough under the Byzantine sphere of influence.

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Boris I, aka. Boris-Michael, 1st Christian ruler of the Bulgarian Empire (852-889)

The reason for Boris I to accept Orthodox Christianity was most certainly because he was pressured to do so according to the History of Byzantium Podcast, and I would agree with it too as Bulgaria here was surrounded by two powerful Christian Empires pressuring them to convert which were the Orthodox Byzantines in the south and the Catholic Carolingian Franks in the west and between both, Boris chose Byzantine Orthodox basically because Constantinople was closer to him and when being baptized as a Christian in the Bulgarians capita of Pliska, he changed his name to Boris-Michael using the name of his godfather, the Byzantine emperor Michael III who although was not at his baptism. As for Michael III, despite so much successes happening in his reign, he really had nothing to do with it but no matter how irresponsible he was as a ruler who did not really give a care about anything, he had competent people behind him such as his uncles Bardas and Petronas as well as Patriarch Photios while Michael was busy partying with his friends that one time according again to the History of Byzantium Podcast, he participated in the chariot race in the Hippodrome himself and once played around with his friends dressing up in stolen clerical outfits dancing around in the streets of Constantinople as if he was mocking the clergy. Michael had also grown closer to his bodyguard Basil as the years passed which also helped Basil rise up the ranks that soon enough Michael as an act to keep his longtime mistress Eudokia Ingerina closer to him as he was still married to his wife he did not love, he had Basil divorce his first wife Maria despite them already having a son named Constantine, thus having Basil marry Eudokia as Michael wanted to still keep her closer to him, and Basil was in fact the closest person to him.

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Eudokia Ingerina, mistress of Michael III, wife of Basil the Macedonian

Unfortunately, the people in the government that Michael put all his trust to would not going to last long enough as in 865 his uncle Petronas had died and in 866 when Bardas was preparing for another the second attempt to retake Crete from the Arab pirates, Basil would show his true ambitions and here he falsely accused Bardas of plotting against Michael to take the throne from him and Michael as usual easily fell for this lie and had Basil execute Bardas which Basil successfully did, thus Basil replaced Bardas as Caesar and then even as co-emperor, though this the expedition to retake Crete never happened. In 866 as well, Eudokia would give birth to her first son named Leo and his birth was celebrated with races in the Hippodrome but it was unclear on who his father actually was whether it was her husband Basil or her lover Michael III, but this story would go with Michael III the Amorian as Leo’s father as Michael was closer to Eudokia more than Basil was and being unable to have children with his first wife, he thought that he could use Eudokia to continue his dynasty by having sons with her. Basil on the other hand was still ever more eager to rise up to power as already getting a taste of it, he could not stop and this meant him wanting to be able to achieve the most powerful position of the empire, which was that of emperor. One night in 867 as Michael III with Basil and Eudokia were at a dinner in a palace in the Galata District of Constantinople found across the harbor of the Golden Horn, with Michael as usual drinking to get wasted, hence his nickname “Michael the Drunkard”, Basil used Michael’s drunkenness to his advantage and so he went to Michael’s bedroom and broke the locks of the door and escaped to the Imperial Palace in the main part of the city. Michael being so wasted was carried to his bed but some hours later as the door’s lock was broken by Basil, assassins sent by Basil rushed into the room and stabbed Michael to death. Now because of this, it can be said that Michael III’s personality of being too trusting of others too much led to his downfall especially when putting trust in someone like Basil who happened to be a murderer with his own imperial ambitions. Following his assassination, Michael was quickly buried in a small church across the Bosporus wherein only his mother Theodora and sisters were allowed to attend his funeral, though later this year (867), Theodora too would die.         

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Kievan Rus’ (Varangian) longships in the Russian river systems
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Byzantine forces under Petronas and Michael III defeat the Arabs and Paulicians at the Battle of Lalakaon, 863
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Execution of Bardas Caesar, 866
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Michael III (right, in blue) makes Basil the Macedonian (left, in red) his co-emperor, Madrid Skylitzes
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Map of the Byzantine Empire (purple) in 867 at the rise of Basil I the Macedonian

   

Here in 867 following the assassination of Michael III, Basil I the Macedonian at age 56 after just 10 years of knowing the previous emperor was now the sole emperor of the Byzantine Empire. The situation happened to be quite embarrassing here as a simple peasant turned horse tamer and wrestler who not only had no formal education but in fact was an illiterate person became the sole ruler of the empire but despite being illiterate and uneducated, he was very intelligent and this was how he was able to find the right moment to usurp power and kill off Michael III, though everyone really just saw Basil as a man of great size, height, and physical strength and nothing more.

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

In order to justify killing Michael III, Basil told everyone he was just doing this to save the empire as Michael III true enough was an irresponsible drunk who could not trusted as if he continued ruling alone with his uncles Bardas and Petronas gone, then all the hard work that was previously done to improve the empire would easily be wasted away. However, Basil was not the first to take the throne this way as just 47 years earlier in 820 Michael III’s grandfather Michael II did just that by killing off Leo V in the Christmas Mass, therefore Basil I’s murder of Michael III seemed justifiable and nothing new to the people of Constantinople and the army, but also Basil’s usurping of power would also be justifiable as he was getting rid of the corrupt Amorian Dynasty which is what Basil’s biography written by his grandson, who will appear later would say about him. On the other hand, Basil also wanted to show that he did not really kill off the Amorian Dynasty by telling everyone basically that his son with Eudokia which was Leo was actually Michael III’s which in this story would be true making Leo an Amorian. Now just after becoming the sole emperor or Basileus of the empire, Basil I despite knowing very little about Church politics would show his hidden ability in politics when suddenly firing Photios from his position as patriarch and replacing him with the former now 70-year-old patriarch Ignatios who back in 858 was fired by Bardas and by firing Photios, Basil was actually doing this as an act be in good terms with the new pope in Rome Hadrian II who was just elected in 867 too and with Photios who was at odds with the Papacy removed, the pope in Rome and Byzantium would be in good terms again, and now with Photios ends the Photian Schism. Now when it came to ruling, Basil I wanted to show his subjects he was a devout Christian unlike his predecessor Michael III who was the opposite being quite disrespectful to his faith and debauched in lifestyle which shocked his subjects, but also to show that he was a just usurper rather than a bloody killer, Basil acted as a strong protector of the poor and lower classes from corrupt eunuchs and tax officials considering that he came from it, though a lot of Basil’s reputation as this was mostly exaggerated in his biography by his grandson.

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

On the other hand, Basil was also trying to make an image of himself as the new Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565), the greatest Byzantine emperor so far and to imitate Justinian I he carried out the ambitious project of recodifying Justinian I’s Corpus Juris Civilis itself or Code of Laws for the empire, and although Basil was illiterate all he could do was commission the recodification of Justinian’s laws and its translation into Greek and this new edition of Justinian’s code of laws would be known as the Basilika, though not named after him as its title actually means “Royal Laws” in Greek, and this would be the code of laws the Byzantines would use till the end of their empire. Like Justinian I, Basil also carried out ambitious construction projects although a lot of others before including the Magnaura school which taught astronomy, geometry, and philosophy was already established by Bardas previously so basically what Basil would do was to build a church that would rival Justinian’s 6th century Hagia Sophia cathedral in grandeur and this church built by Basil I was the Nea Ekklesia in the Imperial Palace Complex which although was not as large as the Hagia Sophia near it but had the innovation of having 4 domes surrounding a higher inner dome, thus the first Byzantine church in this new style and inside it would have some of the finest frescos and mosaics in a new style that emerged in this era following the end of the Iconoclast period. Like Justinian I as well, Basil I also came from humble origins except Justinian was highly educated while Basil still remained illiterate even deep into his reign that he would only use a mark rather than his signature in signing documents. Just like emperor Justinian I again, Basil I would also have some interest in restoring Byzantine rule to the west in which no emperor prior to him did since Constans II (r. 641-668) 200 years earlier- the lead character of chapter IV of this series. Basil I would show his interest in wanting to restore the Byzantine west in 870 when he allied himself with the current Carolingian Frankish emperor Louis II, the grandson of the Frankish Empire’s founder Charlemagne (r. 768-814) in fighting off Arab attacks in Southern Italy which happened to be successful as in 870 the Byzantine fleet in the Adriatic Sea was able to defeat an Arab fleet and afterwards annex the Dalmatian Coast (in today’s Croatia) as part of the Byzantine Empire in order to protect it thus making Dalmatia a Theme while the city of Bari in Southern Italy which previously fell to the Arabs in 871 fell under Louis II though after his death in 875 the Byzantines would take back Bari, and meanwhile the successful general who would be responsible for these victories in Italy was the Cappadocian Greek noble Nikephoros Phokas the Elder, though it would be his grandson mentioned later who would be the more famous person with the same name. At the same time as Basil II busied himself fighting wars in the west, the Paulicians of Tephrike in Eastern Asia Minor again came back into the picture and this time a bigger threat under a strong leader named Chrysocheir who succeeded Karbeas as the Paulician’s leader, and in 872 Basil himself personally led the army determined to crush the Paulician heretics in battle once and for all. When confronting the Paulicians in Eastern Asia Minor at the Battle of Bathys Ryax, Basil himself almost lost his life if not for one of his soldiers being the Armenian peasant Theophylact Lekapenos saving his life here, but at the end of the day the Byzantine forces still won the battle and Chrysocheir himself was killed while the entire Principality of Tephrike would be annexed into the empire, though the city itself would only be fully conquered and destroyed in 878. Back in Constantinople, Theophylact would be promoted to be a member of the emperor’s elite guard or Tagmata but he would have no so such ambitions, although his son who later appear would. Now with the Paulicians fully removed as a political power, the remaining Paulician believers would be forced to settle in other parts of the empire to prevent them from starting another rebellion and many Paulicians would end up fleeing north into the Balkan heartlands.

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Church of Nea Ekklesia in Constantinople’s Imperial Palace Complex, built under Basil I
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Basil I’s Byzantine army defeat the Paulician forces at the Battle of Bathys Ryax, 872

On the other hand, it seemed like Byzantine missionary activities were successful in Christianizing the Balkans that Photios being a politician needed to be restored as patriarch and so when the 80-year-old Patriarch Ignatios died in 877, Basil reappointed Photios as patriarch who at the same time would also be the teacher of Basil’s sons. The rest of the events however would turn out disappointed and even sad for Basil in the next years as first in 878 Syracuse which was the main city of Byzantine Sicily would fall to the Arabs and in 879 Basil’s son and co-emperor Constantine with his first wife Maria suddenly dropped dead therefore he had to make his youngest son with Eudokia Ingerina which was Alexander co-emperor and Alexander certainly was Basil’s son with Eudokia as he was born in 870 long after Michael III died which is why Basil favored Alexander more than Leo who was actually Michael III’s son, but on the other hand Basil saw Constantine’s death as divine punishment for killing Michael III.

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Emperor Basil I on his horse

In 880, there would at least be some success for the Byzantines as Nikephoros Phokas the Elder was able to recapture much of Southern Italy from the Arabs but in 882, Basil would be depressed again as his wife Eudokia had died and by being more depressed, Basil would become even more paranoid as the years would go by especially with Leo who he never believed was his son anyway that Basil would in some occasions physically beat Leo basically for no clear reason except that Leo was nothing like Basil who being very manly enjoyed hunting and sports while Leo was a serious scholar who enjoyed books and true enough Leo too did not see Basil as his real father and obviously- in this story’s case- Leo looked nothing like Basil who was large in size with a rough face but rather Leo looked more like Michael III being thinner and shorter with a finer face. At one point, Basil even suspected Leo of trying to kill him to avenge his father Michael III’s death when Leo was discovered holding a knife even if he had no harmful intention with it, though Basil being paranoid had Leo put in prison for this though it caused public rioting as Leo was actually loved by the public.

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Emperor Basil I in the Imperial Palace

Basil however thought of blinding Leo but was persuaded to not do it by Patriarch Photios while one story which would be true here says that a parrot sang to Basil telling him to spare Leo but Basil not listening killed the parrot by breaking its neck, although feeling guilty for killing the parrot, he still released Leo from prison here in 886 after a 3-year sentence and restored him as co-emperor. Now in the summer of 886 after getting some relief, the now 75-year-old Basil spent some leisure time going hunting in the woods in the Asian side of Bosporus but when hunting he ended up losing his hunting party getting stranded in the woods alone when a stag all of a sudden grabbed Basil’s belt with its antlers thus pulling him off his horse and dragging him for 16 miles through the woods as the story goes. Some hours later, the injured Basil was found by a man who cut him loose but still paranoid, Basil had the man killed for holding a knife in front of him and 9 days later, Basil would die on August 29 of 886 in his hunting lodge from the injury caused by the stag after a 19-year reign. Here, he died at least going such a long way from peasant to emperor who left behind many extravagant palaces and churches in Constantinople and more importantly a full treasury, but little did he know that he was the first and last of his Macedonian Dynasty.

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Basil I and Leo holding out a knife, Madrid Skylitzes
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Basil I and the parrot, Madrid Skylitzes
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Coin of Basil I (left) with his son Constantine and wife Eudokia (right)

Watch this to learn more about Basil I’s life and reign (Jabzy).


Leo VI the Wise, A Serious Scholar but a not so Successful Ruler (886-912)         

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After Basil I’s death, Leo VI known as “the Wise” came to the throne before turning 20 and despite him not actually being Basil’s biological son, he still became emperor as he was Basil’s legal son and the eldest surviving one. Basil I’s death caused by a hunting accident on the other sounded very suspicious and it may have seemed Leo was involved in it as at Basil’s deathbed, one of Leo’s closest advisors was present which was Stylianos Zaoutzes and it could have been him that poisoned Basil, but this cannot be entirely proven.

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Emperor Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912) in his study

As for Leo, another reason for him to hate Basil aside from knowing that he killed his actual father which was Michael III, was that Basil forced him to marry a woman he did not like which was a pious and boring woman named Theophano Martinakia– and no, she is not the same Theophano that will be removed from this story- while Leo himself was already had a beloved mistress which was Stylianos’ daughter Zoe Zaoutzaina and when still alive, Basil banished Zoe in order for Leo to marry Theophano who he had no feelings for, again history repeats itself as Leo’s actual father Michael III had the same situation when forced to marry someone he did not love while actually had a lover which was Leo’s late mother that married Basil. Just right after becoming emperor, there is one historical evidence that shows Michael III was actually Leo’s father and this was when Leo in act of getting back at Basil ordered that Michael III’s body buried across the Bosporus in Asian side be reburied at the Church of the Holy Apostles, the imperial mausoleum with a funeral ceremony fit for an emperor. Leo though was not the sole emperor as his younger brothers Stephen who was also rumored to be Michael III’s son and Alexander who was actually his half-brother being without question Basil’s son were his co-emperors, although Leo at the end of 886 removed Stephen from his position as co-emperor and appointed him as Patriarch of Constantinople despite his young age, thus this would be the first of many inexperienced young family members being appointed as patriarch.

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Leo VI and his first wife Theophano Martinakia

With Stephen appointed as patriarch, the old Photios on the other hand was fired from his position as patriarch as Leo distrusted him despite Photios being the one that actually educated Leo but Leo turned on Photios for supporting Basil and the decision for Leo to marry Theophano who he hated, though Leo also wanted to be in good terms with the Papacy that distrusted Photios, though Photios would still live on until 893. Being the emperor, Leo was a dutiful ruler that attended every event that needed him whether it was chariot races or Church services and as a serious scholar he devoted a lot of his time as well as money and energy into intellectual matters and passing new laws. In 892 Leo completed the Book of Royal Laws or Basilika which Basil commissioned to update Justinian I’s law code, and although Leo hated Basil he still saw it was his duty to update Byzantine law, and being a learned scholar unlike Basil before him who was illiterate, Leo personally recodified the law by putting a few of his insights into it, but the biggest revision of the Basilika was that it had finally translated the laws made by Justinian I which were in Latin into Greek so that everyone could understand it as here Greek was already the official and majority language of the empire while Latin was only used for specific court purposes. Leo too had made a reform which was to centralize the power of the emperor and limit the power of the Byzantine Senate which was at this point very much useless, as due to the rise of the Thematic System and the powerful landed military magnates in the countryside, the senate became nothing more than a club of old and rich aristocrats advising the emperor, although Leo could not fully get rid of the senate as it was an ancient institution dating back to even before the Roman Empire was established. Leo had also been vocal about loose women and adultery in his laws but true enough he was a hypocrite as he himself had a mistress while he was already married, although Leo’s marriage to Theophano never worked out, not even very little and being tired of her marriage to a husband that did not care, Theophano in 893 decided to leave the palace and become a nun while Leo went back to his mistress Zoe.

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Simeon the Great, Tsar of the Bulgarian Empire (r. 893-927), son of Boris I, art by HistoryGold777

It also happened in 893 that Bulgarian Empire up north had a new ruler being Simeon better known as “Simeon the Great” who had been educated in Constantinople by Photios being Leo’s classmate too and was the son of the same Boris I who previously converted Bulgaria to Christianity back in 864, though here by 893 Boris was still alive except that since 889 he abdicated from power and retired to a monastery being succeeded by his eldest son Vladimir who attempted to restore Bulgaria to its old Pagan religion of Tengriism though failed greatly and in 893 was blinded by his father Boris coming out of the monastery but not wanting to return to power, Boris made his younger son Simeon who been back in Bulgaria since 888 as Bulgaria’s new ruler. Things at first seemed to be going well between Leo VI’s Byzantium and Simeon’s Bulgaria until Leo’s highest minister Stylianos Zaoutzes who was his lover Zoe’s father as previously mentioned schemed to have the Bulgarian merchants kicked out of Constantinople and moved to the empire’s second city of Thessaloniki where they would have to pay higher taxes to sell their goods which was part of Stylianos’ corrupt motives to make himself richer and Leo relying too much on Stylianos agreed to it in 894 which on the other hand backfired at him as the Bulgarians felt insulted, thus Simeon declared war on Byzantium. Simeon in 894 led his armies from Bulgaria into Byzantine Thrace in the south where the Byzantine forces were defeated but in response Leo not wanting to give him recalled Nikephoros Phokas the Elder, the empire’s most talented general from Italy to Thrace where he would crush the Bulgarians in battle but most of the success for the Byzantines here in 895 was mostly due to an alliance Leo made with a new steppe people that migrated from Russia to the north of the Danube known as the Magyars.

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Magyar warrior, late 9th century

The Magyar leader Arpad accepted the bribe money offered to him by Leo and attacked the Bulgarian Empire from the north successfully making Simeon abandon his invasion of Byzantium in the south as he had to deal with the Magyars north of Danube although shortly after Simeon was able to defeat the Magyars by allying himself with another group of nomadic horse people north of the Danube known as the Pechenegs, which were a much more difficult and ruthlessly warlike people. With the Magyars defeated in 895 by the Bulgarians, they were forced to flee further west until they came across the Pannonian plain which was once Roman territory wherein they finally settled down forming what would be Hungary whereas Arpad became its first ruler while for the Byzantines in 896, after losing their Magyar allies, they were severely defeated by the Bulgarians with the strength of their cavalry at the Battle of Boulgarophygon in Thrace, which at the end forced Leo to agree to paying a heavy annual tribute to Simeon to avoid war.           

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Leo VI reburies his father Michael III in the Church of the Holy Apostles in 886, Madrid Skylitzes
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Bulgarian cavalry defeat the Byzantine army at the Battle of Boulgarophygon in 896, Madrid Skylitzes
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Magyar people, end of the 9th century

In the meantime, in 897 Leo VI’s first wife Theophano who he never loved died in the monastery she retired to which for Leo gave him such joy and following Theophano’s death he immediately married his longtime mistress Zoe and proclaimed her the empress or Augusta and they would have two children together although both were daughters. Unfortunately, Leo’s happy marriage to Zoe would not last as just 2 years later (899) Zoe had died from illness and so did her father Stylianos but in the following year (900), as the 10th century opened, the Byzantine army scored a major success when defeating the army of the Arab Emirate of Tarsus in Cilicia- another breakaway emirate of the Abbasids- and even capturing the Emir of Tarsus but in 902 however, another great tragedy would happen for the Byzantines when Taormina, the last Byzantine city in Sicily fell to the Arab forces in a siege, thus all of Sicily would fall under the newly formed Arab Emirate of Sicily. While all the wars against the Arabs were happening, Leo in 900 chose to marry for the 3rd time despite 3rd marriages being considered illegal in Orthodoxy but Leo did it anyway just because he desperately needed a son to succeed him and his 3rd wife Eudokia Baiana was chosen by him in a bride show he organized, which here would be the last one recorded in Byzantine history and fortunately the 3rd wife Eudokia was able to give birth to a son in 901 thus Leo thought this would be his final marriage except that after giving birth, Eudokia dropped dead and so did their newborn son a few days later, now Leo would be greatly heartbroken.

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Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium (r. 886-912), art by Spatharokandidatos

Leo would suffer another misfortune again in 904 when he was almost killed in an assassination attempt carried out by a wrestler and when investigating it, it so happened that his younger and co-emperor half-brother Alexander was involved in it, therefore Alexander was removed from his position as co-emperor which would make him start holding a lifelong grudge on Leo as you will see but worse than this was that also in 904, Byzantium’s second city of Thessaloniki was besieged and brutally sacked by Arab pirates led by the notorious Leo of Tripoli, a Byzantine Greek taken as a captive to Tripoli (in today’s Lebanon) as a child wherein he was raised to become a fearsome pirate. Thessaloniki however was just raided but had not fallen to the pirates, but it was so severely damaged that Leo VI decided to avenge its sacking by doing the same to Tarsus in the southern coast of Asia Minor where this pirate fleet came from. The Byzantine raid on Tarsus in 906 was a successful one with many Arab prisoners taken except that the general sent to lead the mission Andronikos Doukas out of nowhere abandoned the mission as being from the distinguished aristocratic Doukas clan that had been in the Byzantine Senate since Emperor Constantine the Great established it in 330, he did not want his aristocratic pride hurt by taking orders from the fleet’s admiral Himerios who was lower than him in status, therefore Andronikos fled to the Abbasid’s capital to Baghdad itself where he would die in 910.

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Mosaic of Empress Zoe Karbonopsina, 4th wife of Leo VI

As for Leo after losing 3 wives, by 904 he took in a new mistress which was Himerios’ niece Zoe Karbonopsina, a woman with dark curly hair who was most famous for her distinct black eyes, hence her nickname Karbonopsina meaning “black eyes” in Greek and apparently in 905 they had a son which Leo named Constantine better known as Constantine Porphyrogennetos as he was born in the purple room of the imperial palace, the place only imperial family members had access to in order to give birth to imperial heirs to secure their legitimacy, thus imperial children born here had the title of Porphyrogennetos if they were males or Porphyrogenita for females, literally meaning “purple born” in Greek, and though many would use this title, only Constantine who will rule later on and play a major role in this story would be the only Byzantine emperor to use this title officially. Leo and Zoe were already planning to marry long before Constantine was born, but of course this not only being a 3rd but a 4th marriage was totally outrageous to the Orthodox Church that the current Patriarch of Constantinople here Nikolaos Mystikos, an imperial secretary and Leo’s former classmate who had been patriarch since 901 following Leo’s brother Stephen’s death totally objected to it, so instead Leo and Zoe were secretly married at the dead of night by a priest loyal to Leo but when Patriarch Nikolaos heard of it, Leo was banned from entering the Hagia Sophia despite being the emperor. Nikolaos however still reluctantly baptized Constantine in 906 but at the same time, Leo decided to return his half-brother Alexander as co-emperor for safety measures in case something happened to Constantine and in 907, Leo was able to get away with his illegal marriage to Zoe by firing the patriarch Nikolaos under suspicion of him siding with the rebel Andronikos Doukas, thus replacing him with the deeply spiritual monk Euthymios, who was Leo’s teacher in theology and spirituality when he was still young. On the other hand, Leo’s other motive in appointing Euthymios as patriarch was to again be in good terms with the pope Sergius III in Rome as Nikolaos being an outspoken politician was not trusted by the pope whereas a more spiritual leader like Euthymios was more favorable to the pope, again making this another situation in the Church rivalry between Constantinople and Rome, but at the same time the pope also needed Leo’s Byzantine military assistance in defending Southern Italy from the Arabs which is why Sergius III accepted Leo’s 4th marriage too. In 907 as well, Leo just like his actual father Michael III in 860 faced the same situation of the same Kievan Rus’ fleet of longships attacking Constantinople, except now the Rus were an official organized state in Eastern Europe but just like in 860 here, the Rus did not attack Constantinople itself, rather they just raided the riches in the churches and monasteries in the suburbs in typical Viking fashion and retreated back north to the Black Sea after receiving some bribe money from Leo.

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Handheld Greek Fire

Leo on the other hand after suffering so many military defeats despite not ever personally joining his armies himself in military campaigns learned from his mistakes and in 908 wrote and published a military manual himself based on reports by generals in which he carefully studied and came up with new tactics basing them on where his armies had failed and this new military manual is better known as the Taktika, though on the other hand Leo had some success in commissioning the invention of a portable version of the empire’s secret superweapon of Greek Fire which was to be hand held during sieges. In 910, Leo’s admiral Himerios would end up succeeding in attacking the Arab pirate fleet in the Mediterranean that he even went as far as attacking an Arab port in Syria and with this success Leo in 911 sent Himerios with 177 ships on another attempt to retake the island of Crete from the Arab Emirate of pirates there but before being able to finish off his siege of the emirate’s capital Chandax, he received word from the capital that the emperor fell ill and was close to death making him abandon the siege and rush back, thus another failed attempt to recapture Crete. On the return trip to Constantinople in 912, Himerios’ navy in the Aegean was surrounded and annihilated again by the same pirate Leo of Tripoli, although Himerios narrowly escaped, and when the news of the defeat of Himerios to the Arab pirates reached Leo VI in Constantinople the same day he died which was May 11 of 912. Leo VI the Wise died at only 45 due to a fatal illness that could not be cured, possibly cancer while his son Constantine was only 7 but at least Leo left behind a great cultural impact for Byzantium especially in the military manual and code laws he made which would play a vital role in Byzantine politics and warfare from here onwards, but otherwise if Leo had not published these books, he would just be remembered as a mediocre emperor that tried so hard to win battles but failed.

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Emperor Leo VI and his 4 wives, art by Powee Celdran
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Byzantine Taormina, Sicily falls to the Arabs in 902, Madrid Skylitzes
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Sack of Thessaloniki in 904 by Leo of Tripoli, Madrid Skylitzes
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Baptism of Leo VI’s son Constantine in 906, Madrid Skylitzes
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Euthymios appointed as Patriarch of Constantinople in 907, Madrid Skylitzes
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Kievan Rus’ 907 attack of Constantinople, from the Primary Chronicle
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Mosaic of Emperor Leo VI (kneeling down) in the Hagia Sophia’s door recreated

The Chaotic Regency and Romanos I Lekapenos (912-944)    

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On May 11 of 912 as Leo VI was on his deathbed, his half-brother and co-emperor Alexander was present and before dying Leo told him some prophecy saying “13 months and the devil’s time” although Alexander had no idea what it meant but true enough, he succeeded Leo as senior emperor as he was already co-emperor first since 879 long before young Constantine was. Now Alexander definitely had no parentage issues as Basil I was certainly his father with Alexander was born in 870, 3 years after Michael III’s death and a possible reason why Alexander hated Leo was surely because he was Basil’s legitimate son while Leo was not, thus the Macedonian Dynasty here would only consist of Basil I and Alexander whereas Leo VI and his successors who will appear afterwards were in fact from Michael III’s bloodline, the Amorians.

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Coin of Emperor Alexander

Alexander as Basil’s son resembled Basil in appearance a lot being tall and large in size with light colored hair and a beard which was opposite to Leo’s appearance and just like his father, Alexander was greatly passionate about hunting and sports though like Michael III, Alexander was a lazy drunk. This story now will go with the usual historical portrayal of Alexander as a lazy, debauched, childish, and incompetent ruler who’s only purpose to rule was to get revenge on his older half-brother for no good reason except that Alexander was co-emperor for 33 years never getting the chance to be a senior emperor and also because he was angry at Leo for removing him from his rank of co-emperor for just 2 years (904-906). Becoming emperor at 41 but already in bad health with bad teeth due to heavy drinking, Alexander thinking he would rule for long was the first emperor in the history of Byzantium to use the title of Autokrator or “self-ruling ruler” celebrating his end of 33 years only as co-emperor forgetting he actually had a co-emperor which was his 7-year-old nephew Constantine who Leo made co-emperor before his death, although Alexander here in 912 decided to castrate young Constantine to remove him from the succession but his advisors told Alexander to not do it as he had remained unmarried his entire life having not a single child and so young Constantine was instead locked up in a nunnery with his mother Zoe Karbonopsina who Alexander hated too for being Leo’s wife. Just a few months after coming into power, Alexander already showed how uninterested he was in ruling the empire and only ruling to damage Leo’s legacy which was seen when he fired all the competent ministers that were loyal to Leo such as the admiral Himerios and Patriarch Euthymios as well as discontinuing all of Leo’s policies just to get back at him. Now when it came to firing Patriarch Euthymios, Alexander restored the previous patriarch Nikolaos Mystikos who opposed Leo’s 4th marriage and Nikolaos too was driven with revenge for being removed from his position that in the trial organized to depose Euthymios, Nikolaos hired a giant wrestler to beat up Euthymios in public while the trial was happening, and at the end Euthymios was sent into exile as Nikolaos returned to his position.

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Nikolaos Mystikos, Patriarch of Constantinople (901-907/ 912-925)

Another rumor about Alexander in his reign was that some nights he would perform Pagan sacrifices in the Hippodrome as if he was asking the old gods for fertility as apparently, he was unable to produce children. As an incompetent ruler, Alexander did not pay attention to the frontiers that the main forces of the Abbasid Caliphate from Baghdad itself attacked Asia Minor and when Bulgarian ambassadors from Simeon came to Constantinople to collect the annual tribue Leo promised, Alexander in his usual drunken rage shouted at the Bulgarian ambassadors kicking them out of his presence and refusing to pay tribute, again as act of discontinuing Leo’s policies out of revenge. Over in Bulgaria when their ruler Simeon heard of Alexander refusing to pay tribute, Simeon feeling so insulted resumed war with Byzantium knowing he could easily defeat them considering Alexander’s incompetence. In June of 913 while Simeon was making preparations to attack Byzantium, Alexander was enjoying himself in the Polo field or Tzykanisterion of the Imperial Palace playing a game of polo or Tzykanion after some drinks of expensive Greek wine from Lesbos, but Alexander after playing a game of polo fell off his horse when suffering a heart attack and hours later, he had died. Apparently the 13-month prophecy Leo had told Alexander was true as after ruling alone for only 13 months, Alexander had died, thus here would die the last ruler of the Macedonian bloodline of Basil whereas the rule of the Amorians would continue with Leo’s son Constantine VII, and it was fortunate enough for the empire that Alexander died right here as if he ruled longer, the empire may have suffered more with his incompetence.          

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Mosaic of Emperor Alexander (r. 912-913) in the Hagia Sophia
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Patriarch Euthymios removed from office by Alexander in 912, Madrid Skylitzes
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Tzykanion, Byzantine polo (art by Amelianvs)

Right after Alexander’s death in June of 913, young Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos was crowned as the sole ruler empire as willed by Alexander, except being only 8-years-old meant that a regency council had to now rule for him led by Patriarch Nikolaos Mystikos while Constantine’s mother Zoe Karbonopsina was to stay out of it, again as willed by Alexander. The patriarch however hated the empress and did not see Constantine as a legitimate emperor as Nikolaos still did not approve of Leo and Zoe’s marriage and in this story’s case, he also did not see Constantine as legitimate because his father Leo was not a legitimate son of an emperor but an illegitimate son of a murdered emperor, therefore his successors were illegitimate so only a few days after the council was set up, Nikolaos banished empress Zoe back to the nunnery she was in. Patriarch Nikolaos and most of the Byzantine Senate too could not accept Constantine VII as their ruler and so they supported a rebel general who was putting his claim on the throne refusing to accept a child as his ruler, and this general was Constantine Doukas, son of the same general Andronikos Doukas that fled to Baghdad and died there 3 years earlier. Just a few days after Constantine VII was crowned emperor, Constantine Doukas and his army who had a lot of support arrived outside the walls of Constantinople ready to storm the city but just as he arrived, the city garrison loyal to young emperor charged at the rebel forces in open battle. Constantine Doukas seeing his side was about lose tried to escape but, in the process, he slipped off his horse and fell to the ground wherein the city garrison soldiers killed him by hacking him with their swords, thus his rebellion failed, though he was not the last of the Doukas clan as they will be featured heavily in the next chapter of this series. Patriarch Nikolaos in an act of protecting himself denied that he had any part in the conspiracy of Constantine Doukas that he even had anyone knew involved in the conspiracy executed and their bodies impaled on spikes outside Constantinople’s walls that he would gain such a brutal reputation for it.

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Tsar Simeon the Great of Bulgaria

Just 2 months after the failed plot of Constantine Doukas, it was Simeon and his Bulgarian army’s turn to arrive outside the Theodosian land walls of Constantinople but seeing the strength of the walls, he instead decided to attack and burn the farms outside it that Patriarch Nikolaos had to come out to negotiate peace with Simeon and here Nikolaos agreed to resume paying the annual tribute of Leo VI but also for young Constantine VII to marry one of Simeon’s daughters, although Simeon saw this as an opportunity to take over Constantine VII’s regency and rule both Byzantium and Bulgaria himself. The senate meanwhile disapproved of the patriarch’s deal with Simeon as none of them wanted a Bulgarian foreigner who they still saw as a barbarian- despite adopting Byzantine customs and religion- ruling the empire and so Simeon packed off and left as he got his tribute anyway but most of the senate was also displeased with Nikolaos’ brutality that in 914, they returned Empress Zoe back to the regency council getting her out of the nunnery although Nikolaos still stayed as patriarch when being threatened by Zoe to recognize her authority. In 915 when the Byzantines won a major victory over the invading Arabs in Southern Italy, Empress Zoe’s popularity grew but at the same time she also disapproved of her son Constantine marrying Simeon’s daughter as this deal was made by Patriarch Nikolaos who she hated and also because in her Byzantine arrogance Simeon was nothing more but a filthy barbarian. Simeon hearing of the empress turning down his offer in 915 resumed war with Byzantium that Simeon’s Bulgarian forces even briefly took the city of Adrianople until Zoe’s forces quickly took it back forcing Simeon to flee, thus Zoe again became more popular. Simeon on the other hand still continued his raids by going as far south as Byzantine Thessaly and Epirus in Greece between 915 and 916 then by 917 he returned to Thrace whereas Zoe was prepared to crush his forces by amassing a massive army led by the best generals of the empire which included John Bogas, the commanding general or Strategos of the Theme of Cherson, which was the remote Byzantine colony in the Crimea north of the Black Sea, the Cappadocian brothers Leo Phokas the Elder and Bardas Phokas the Elder who were the sons of the late and great general Nikephoros Phokas the Elder who had died back in 900, and Himerios’ replacement as the grand Droungarios or admiral the Armenian Romanos Lekapenos, son of the same Armenian peasant soldier Theophylact Lekapenos who saved Basil I back in 872. Now you may ask why all the empire’s top commanders were either Armenians or Cappadocians, and this is because by being raised in these parts being in the empire’s frontiers, these people had grown up to be tough soldiers.

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Pecheneg warrior, 10th century

Now the plan here was that the army led by the Phokas brothers would march north from Constantinople while Romanos with his fleet was to ferry both John Bogas and his troops from Cherson as well the Byzantines’ new Pecheneg allies from across the Danube to Thrace but John Bogas and Romanos would end up arguing, as again as usual Bogas being of high birth refused to take orders from Romanos who was of lower status and Romanos would only agree to ferry Bogas and his troops if Bogas were to bow down to his authority, though Bogas refused and the Pecheneg mercenaries as usual being difficult to handle were tired of waiting and not yet receiving their pay gave up and abandoned the Byzantines. Meanwhile, only the Phokas brothers and their army were left to confront Simeon’s Bulgar forces but while camping out near the port of Anchialos in Thrace along the Black Sea, Simeon and his forces caught them by surprise and charged right their camp and what resulted was a total massacre as barely any Byzantine soldiers survived it while many panicked and retreated as well believing Leo Phokas to be dead when seeing his horse gallop away without him, though it was unclear on what happened to Bardas here.

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Bulgarians defeat the Byzantines at the Battle of Anchialos, 917

Back in Constantinople, Zoe being so enraged blamed all the failures on the admiral Romanos Lekapenos who she even threatened to blind but Romanos’ powerful friends prevented her from doing so. Leo Phokas and his brother Bardas meanwhile survived the attack and fled to the Black Sea port of Mesembria where they took a ship back to Constantinople where Leo would meet up with Zoe who however saw no fault in Leo even if he was responsible for the massacre of his men as he was taking bath while Simeon charged at them. Instead of punishing Leo, Zoe even gave him an additional two armies to command and strike back at Simeon again but when facing Simeon’s forces again outside Constantinople, Leo was severely defeated but to protect his reputation and save her own as it had been damaged due to this defeat, Zoe decided to marry him and make him young Constantine’s regent but Constantine’s teacher Theodore disagreed to it believing this would remove Constantine from the succession, therefore Theodore wrote to Romanos to take over the regency and protect Constantine.

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Leo Phokas the Elder, Byzantine general

Zoe on the other hand asked the regency council to meet again only to find out that they all lost faith in her because of the defeat to the Bulgars at Anchialos and outside Constantinople that Patriarch Nikolaos had to return to running the regency from here on. Romanos however had turned out to have his own imperial ambitions which is why he was at odds with Leo Phokas and in 919, Romanos suddenly docked his fleet outside the Boukoleon Palace along the sea walls of Constantinople wherein he declared he was going to take over the regency while Zoe was asked to resign from it and retire and here the 14-year-old Constantine VII was married to Romanos’ young daughter Helena Lekapene to secure Romanos’ claim to the throne. Leo Phokas on the other hand who was across the Bosporus put his claim on the throne as well in rebellion against Romanos claiming that he was to save Constantine VII but before he was able to cross the Bosporus to Constantinople, Romanos sent him a letter denouncing Leo’s actions which made Leo’s men desert and as Leo tried to flee south into Asia Minor, Romanos’ men caught him and blinded him wherein he was paraded in Constantinople’s streets though his fate afterwards is unknown. In 920 then, Romanos made a deal with Patriarch Nikolaos to keep Constantine VII in power as long as Zoe was to be banished for good in which she did by retiring to the same nunnery she was kept in before for good this time. Later in 920, young Constantine VII was forced to crown his father-in-law Romanos as his co-emperor and just a few months later, Romanos I Lekapenos assumed the full duty of the empire’s senior emperor although Constantine VII was still kept in power but only in name whereas Romanos was to effectively run the empire claiming he was doing it for young Constantine’s protection.         

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The land walls of Constantinople (Theodosian Land Walls), art by Powee Celdran
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Coronation of young Constantine VII in 913, Madrid Skylitzes
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Byzantine army at the night before the disastrous Battle of Anchialos in 917, Madrid Skylitzes
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Capture and blinding of Leo Phokas the Elder by Romanos Lekapenos in 919, Madrid Skylitzes

When Romanos I Lekapenos took over the imperial administration in 920 not only as a regent or protector but as emperor, it was suspected that he would one day murder young Constantine VII except that he didn’t, rather he had more subtle ways of sidelining Constantine VII and making himself the supreme authority and this was by removing Constantine’s imperial authority even as he aged, thus it turned out the poorly educated admiral of low birth was actually an intelligent and cunning ruler. For the next years, Constantine VII would live in the shadows though still in the imperial palace keeping his title as emperor, except basically he was a political prisoner of his father-in-law Romanos I who had to keep watching his back being never really permitted him leave without Romanos’ approval, but Constantine would in fact enjoy his time by not having to perform his duties as emperor but instead doing what he grew up to love most, which were scholarly interests such as reading, writing, as well as painting and sculpting, basically Constantine was his father the scholarly Leo VI’s son.

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Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos of Byzantium (r. 920-944)

For Romanos, to make it seem like Constantine would be powerless, Romanos made his eldest son Christopher his co-emperor in 921 who was intended to be his actual successor and in 924 Romanos I made his 2 younger sons Stephen and Constantine co-emperors too, thus Constantine VII the rightful emperor became the least powerful of the 5 emperors with his name placed at the bottom of the coins issued by the 5 rulers. The threat of Simeon of Bulgaria however was still at large and not to mention at this time, the Bulgarian Empire here under Simeon was no longer the primitive warrior state of Bulgaria 2 centuries earlier that posed a threat to Byzantium, but a highly civilized major Orthodox Christian cultural and military power in its golden age the same way Byzantium was, and in terms of size, Bulgaria was the largest empire in Eastern Europe spanning from the west to east from the Black Sea to the Ionian Sea and north to south from the Carpathian Mountains in Central Europe to Central Greece, and its ruler Simeon was no longer like the Bulgarian khans of old but a full emperor in authority known as tsar in their language, literally meaning “Caesar” being the first Bulgarian ruler to call himself that. Simeon in 924 made another attempt to besiege Constantinople both by land and sea except this time getting himself allied forces from the Arab powers in the Middle East, Sicily, and North Africa which Simeon believed was enough to fully take over Constantinople. The Arabs however were intercepted first by Romanos before they could reach Simeon and Romanos won them over by even agreeing to pay tribute to them and when finding out his Arab allies never made it, Simeon was upset. Simeon however still made it to Constantinople but when arriving, Romanos chose to resolve the issue with diplomacy and here Patriarch Nikolaos who was still alive arranged for both rulers to meet up at a dock along Constantinople’s Golden Horn harbor. When seeing Simeon up close, Romanos I did not see a Bulgarian ruler in the traditional Bulgarian fur cloaks and fur hats but an emperor dressed in the same silks as the Byzantines did, although when they met face to face, there apparently was no violent tension brewing between them, rather it ended peacefully with Romanos agreeing to resume paying tribute to Bulgaria, also handing over to Simeon 100 silk robes as a gift. Afterwards, Simeon would never return as a physical threat except that in 925 he had the audacity to call himself not only tsar but “Basileus of both Bulgars and Romans”, literally emperor of both empires, though Romanos did not take it as an insult and instead he even joked about it saying that if he can, he would call himself “Caliph of Baghdad” without the Abbasid caliph’s approval. Simeon again not physically threatening Byzantium in 926 declared the Bulgarian Church independent from Constantinople, therefore creating a separate Patriarchate of Bulgaria though no matter how powerful Simeon was as tsar, his rule was still challenged first by his western neighbors being the Serbs (from present day Serbia) who Simeon defeated in 926, but the bigger threat to Simeon was his other more powerful western neighbor which was the Kingdom of Croatia ruled by its new king Tomislav who happened to be an ally of the Byzantines.

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Tomislav, King of Croatia (r. 925-928)

Though seemingly undefeatable, Simeon’s forces lost a severe defeat to the Croatian forces of Tomislav in 926 in what is now Bosnia, thus Bulgaria was forced to pay a heavy humiliating tribute to Croatia and in 927, the very much humiliated Simeon died from a heart attack in his palace in the new Bulgarian capital of Preslav and would be succeeded by his son Peter I as tsar who would happen to be a much weaker and less warlike ruler compared to his father. Peter I when becoming Bulgaria’s new tsar was also still young and wanting to rule in peace, he personally went to Constantinople to negotiate with Romanos I which was successful and as part of the deal, Peter married Romanos’ young granddaughter Maria, daughter of his eldest son Christopher with the new Patriarch of Constantinople Stephen II– who had succeeded Nikolaos after his death back in 925- marrying them and following this, a long 42-year period would last between Byzantium and Bulgaria, allowing the Byzantines to continue fighting their other deadly enemy, the Arabs.          

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Coin of Romanos I with his and his sons Christopher, Stephen, Constantine, and son-in-law Constantine VII’s (at the very bottom) names
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Court of Tsar Simeon in Bulgaria
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Map of the Bulgarian Empire (yellow) under Tsar Simeon, Byzantine Empire (pink)

As the effective emperor, despite the rightful Constantine VII still having the title, Romanos I Lekapenos may have completely seemed to everyone as a tough military man being quite uncultured, uneducated, and rough around the edges which is what his rather intellectually and artistically snobbish son-in-law Constantine VII would say about him seeing him every day in the palace, although Constantine as I would say never felt respected by his father-in-law as Romanos felt his son-in-law was not tough enough being a an artist and scholar and not a soldier and politician the way Romanos was. However, despite Romanos’ tough exterior, he was also someone with a big heart as when a brutal winter struck Constantinople from 927-928, Romanos I spent a lot of the imperial treasury in building porticos for Constantinople’s streets so that homeless would not die of the cold and also to make sure the people had enough food to last the winter. Following this winter when seeing how much damage it inflicted on the people, especially the small farmers, Romanos I decided to pass a law that was to forbid the wealthy and powerful landed aristocracy or the Dynatoi to buy land from these farmers thus taking it away from them but also for these farmers to not sell their land to their richer neighbors, though this was also part of an act to limit the landed aristocracy’s power as they produced the most troublemaking generals like the Phokas clan. In 931 on the other hand, Romanos I would suffer a great loss when his co-emperor son and intended heir Christopher died from an illness which Romanos mourned deeply most especially because there would be no one competent enough to succeed him when he dies as his other sons Stephen and Constantine despite them being co-emperors were rather good for nothing, therefore the only capable one was the rightful emperor Constantine VII, which was something Romanos could not accept.

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Theophylact Lekapenos, Patriarch of Constantinople (933-956) playing Tzykanion, art by Byzantine Tales

In 933, Romanos I as usual as the master of nepotism successfully schemed to make his 16-year-old son Theophylact, named after Romanos’ father be appointed as Patriarch of Constantinople which had happened to be a total embarrassment as for one Theophylact was a child who had no knowledge in theology, spirituality, and Church politics and second, his major concern was horses and playing Byzantine Polo that in one Easter he forgot to perform his duty as patriarch in celebrating the Eucharist as he had to be in the stables to watch his favorite horse give birth. Now when it came to military matters, this was where Romanos I was most successful at, although he did not personally lead the armies himself, rather the job was left to his close friend the general John Kourkouas who was from a lesser known aristocratic family, which Romanos preferred more thus making him the commander in chief or Domestikos ton Scholon of the eastern armies who back in 923 finally defeated the notorious pirate Leo of Tripoli in the Aegean Sea in which Leo would afterwards disappear from the historical record and in 932, John went as far as Lake Van in the border of Byzantium and Armenia capturing the trading town of Manzikert, thus giving the empire control of trade routes into Armenia and Central Asia. John Kourkouas however would score his greatest victory in 934 when finally achieving the Byzantine dream of capturing the city of Melitene (today’s Malatya, Turkey) in Eastern Asia Minor which then had been the seat of the breakaway Arab Emirate of Melitene that was a vassal of the Abbasids in Baghdad, though what would be very significant about this capture of Melitene was that it was the first time the Byzantine conquered an entire Arab Emirate and absorb it to their empire. Following the conquest of Melitene, the Byzantines immediately resettled Greeks and Armenians in the area into it before the Arabs could take it back but the capture of Melitene also sent great shockwaves to the Muslim world that the Emirates of Mosul and Aleppo both ruled by members of the Hamdanid clan would counter-attack and challenge John Kourkouas although by 940, the Arab Hamdanid general Sayf al-Dawla better known as the “Sword of Islam” and John would be recalled to their capitals but in 941, John returned to campaigning in the east although he had to immediately rush back, for he heard Constantinople was under attack again. Now in 941, Constantinople was for the 3rd time attacked by the army and fleet of the Kievan Rus’ coming from today’s Ukraine sailing down the Black Sea with their fleet of longships, except this time the Rus’ force was much larger and deadlier with 1,000 ships and 40,000 men with their Grand Prince Igor himself leading them.

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Igor, Grand Prince of Kiev (r. 914-945)

Having only 15 old ships in the capital, Romanos I patched them all up with the imperial secret superweapon of Greek Fire and charged them all out to attack the Rus’ longships with the eunuch admiral Theophanes in command of the 15 ships, and with the Rus thinking they could easily crush these 15 ships, they were proven wrong when all 15 of them blew out the powerful liquid fire which burned a number of the Rus’ ships and the Rus soldiers in fear of the sight of the fire jumped into the sea wherein many died from drowning due to the weight of their armor. After fleeing from the Greek Fire, the remaining Rus army escaped to the Asian shore of the Marmara where they committed great atrocities towards the Byzantine locals including crucifying them with nails hammered to their heads while as usual, the Rus nonstop pillaged the land. Soon enough hope would come for the Byzantines when their armies led by John Kourkouas and the same old Bardas Phokas the Elder, the younger brother of Leo Phokas who was blinded back in 919 rushed back to counter-attack the Rus, and at the end of the day the Byzantines were victorious as Theophanes with his navy also destroyed the rest of the fleet, thus the remaining Rus including their prince Igor returned home to Kiev. Now this major conflict between the Rus and Byzantines in 941 is where the graphic novel Theophano opened with the same admiral Theophanes defending Constantinople from the Rus, except here in this story the family of Theophano from Laconia in Greece would not come, thus the story returns to John Kourkouas who would resume his campaigns against the Arabs in the east where in 942 he would attack Aleppo in Syria, the seat of the Arab Emirate though would not be able to conquer it, but John would later on achieve what no Byzantine armies did for the past 3 centuries since all of Byzantine Syria and Mesopotamia was lost to the first wave of Arab invasions in the 630s during the reign of Heraclius (610-641), if you remember from chapter IV of this series. John here would go as far as capturing the important fortress of Dara, the same military fort both Byzantines and Sassanid Persians fought over countless times back in the old days almost 400 years earlier. Though while John Kourkouas seemed to be scoring a lot of victories in the east, Romanos I’s time as emperor was nearing its end, thus he was growing more depressed as the days went by.

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Map of the small states at the Caucasus border between Byzantium and the Abbasid Caliphate in the 10th century
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Byzantine forces under John Kourkouas capture Melitene from the Arabs in 934, Madrid Skylitzes
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Rus-Byzantine War of 941, Byzantine fleet uses Greek Fire against the Rus’ fleet, Madrid Skylitzes
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Rus-Byzantine War of 941, Byzantine fleet defeats the Rus’ fleet at the Sea of Marmara, Madrid Skylitzes
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Byzantine navy using Greek Fire against the Rus outside Constantinople’s Walls, 941

Part II.

Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, and Intellectual Snob but Surprisingly Skilled Emperor (944-959)          

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For more than 20 years, the rightful emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos had been in the shadows although this whole time he had been busy with intellectual pursuits all while having a rather happy marriage to Romanos I’s daughter Helena who being her father’s only daughter when all his other children were sons did not have a lot in common with her father and brothers’ more manly interests, but rather like her husband, she also enjoyed the more sophisticated things.

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Emperor Constantine VII and Empress Helena Lekapene

Helena had turned to out to be the empire’s senior empress as well despite her only being the senior emperor’s daughter as this was due to the fact that her mother had already died a long time ago just 2 years after her father became emperor (922) and being the most powerful woman in the family as her father’s only daughter, she became the highest-ranking woman in the empire. Helena’s marriage to Constantine VII was indeed a very successful one that they were able to produce 6 children and unlike her father who had 5 sons and only one daughter, Helena with Constantine had 5 daughters and only one son named Romanos born in 938 as a Porphyrogennetos in the purple room too andnamed after his maternal grandfather the reigning emperor, and surprisingly Romanos was born with a twin sister named Zoe after her grandmother, Constantine VII’s mother Empress Zoe Karbonopsina who had died as a nun a long time ago. Now back to Romanos I, by the 940s he had grown increasingly depressed especially since his son and intended heir Christopher died despite it happening 10 years earlier and in his depression, Romanos I became most concerned with what we would all be worried about when reaching old age, which is about the afterlife and Romanos here was deeply bothered about it especially about the salvation of his soul and like Basil I mentioned earlier on as he was in his final years, Romanos I felt the same way in feeling he had been punished by God for what he did in the past which was taking over power from the rightful emperor. In 944 the Rus’ prince Igor I returned once again with his fleet except in the mouth of Danube River to the Black Sea this time threatening to have war with the Byzantines again, but Romanos this time was able to turn them away through diplomacy by sending them gifts. Back in the east, the general John Kourkouas continued his successful campaigns deep into Northern Mesopotamia, although he was still unable to capture the city of Edessa in 942 but instead the Arab authorities gave John a very important relic which had been in the city of Edessa’s possession since the 1st century AD and this was the Holy Mandylion which was a piece of cloth believed to have been used by Jesus Christ himself to wipe his face, therefore leaving an imprint of his features, and this was a relic of high value that the Byzantines always wanted to acquire.

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Image of Christ in the Mandylion

In 944, the Mandylion was sent over to Constantinople wherein a grand ceremony was held to enshrine it in the Hagia Sophia, though Romanos I was too ill and depressed to attend it so instead his sons and co-emperors Stephen and Constantine attended it and so did his son-in-law Constantine VII but when the ceremony happened, the brothers Stephen and Constantine could not see the face on the cloth but Constantine VII did, therefore he gained a vast amount of public support as everyone believed that by being able to see Christ’s face, he was destined to take back the throne. Romanos I later on true enough announced that his time was almost near as he was already 74, therefore he named his son-in-law Constantine VII his successor as senior emperor and not his sons Stephen and Constantine but when these two sons heard of this, they were greatly enraged and so in December of 944 to save their positions, both sons launched a coup against their father in which they broke into his bedroom while he was sleeping and here, both sons put him under arrest, dragged him to a boat, and sent him away to the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara to be a monk in a monastery there. For the next 2 or 3 weeks, both brothers Stephen and Constantine were basically in charge of the empire and now they turned to arrest their brother-in-law Constantine VII but failed as Constantine VII already had great public support and so being convinced by his wife Helena, Constantine VII in January of 945 struck back and arrested his brothers-in-law. The people of Constantinople meanwhile started hearing some rumors that Constantine VII had been killed by the brothers until Constantine VII himself came out to greet them saying he was all alive and well and that the brothers had been banished to no other than the monastery where they sent their father to. Both Stephen and Constantine Lekapenos ended up becoming monks too joining their father in monastery arrest and while Romanos I spent his last years thinking about his soul, his sons were still thinking of ways to return to power but at the end they never would, and Constantine VII now at 39 finally got his chance to rule alone after 32 years of being in the shadows despite keeping his title.

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Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos of Byzantium (r. 913-959), sole emperor (945-959)

At 39, Constantine VII was tall but stocky with a long black beard and brown hair, though quite overweight as for the past 32 years he barely left the palace and instead remained in his study reading and writing as well as drawing and painting and in those years he had been kept away, he became most interested in court ceremonies and now as the sole emperor, he put a lot of attention into it as a way to make it seem like he was all-powerful to make up for all those years where he seemed powerless. Not surprisingly, Constantine VII held a strong grudge against his in-laws, the Lekapenos family especially towards his father-in-law Romanos I and his brothers-in-law seeing them as nothing more but uncultured and improper people or basically just trash despite being married to one, except that Helena as I said was nothing like her father and older brothers, although there were also some members of the Lekapenos family that Constantine VII still trusted as they were much like him in personality and interests and these were Helena’s younger brother the patriarch Theophylact Lekapenos who was still patriarch and Basil Lekapenos, the youngest though illegitimate son of Romanos I born 925 who now as an adult was castrated and turned into a eunuch by Constantine VII’s orders as a way to make Basil unquestionably loyal and unable to usurp power as he was to be Constantine VII’s personal chamberlain and bodyguard.

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Woodcarving of Christ crowning Emperor Constantine VII

As usual of emperors coming to power in this period in Byzantine history, Constantine VII began his sole rule by firing all those loyal to Romanos I including the highly successful general John Kourkouas who in 945 was dismissed from command as Constantine feared he would one day take the throne in the name of his friend Romanos I, and in return Constantine VII replaced all of Romanos I’s loyalists with people loyal to him such as the same old Bardas Phokas the Elder who in 945 replaced John Kourkouas as the supreme commander of the eastern armies and serving him would be his sons Nikephoros Phokas the Younger and Leo Phokas the Younger as well as their 30-year-old nephew John Kourkouas Tzimiskes, who was the son of their older sister and a grand-nephew of the same John Kourkouas who had been fired; and now this Nikephoros Phokas mentioned here who was named after his grandfather Nikephoros Phokas the Elder that was mentioned earlier, would be the more famous Nikephoros Phokas. The other loyal officials Constantine VII had appointed to run the government on the other hand were mostly eunuchs which included of course Basil Lekapenos but also other highly capable eunuch administrators like Joseph Bringas and Constantine Gongyles. Romanos I meanwhile had not died yet and in 947, his son Theophylact who was still patriarch here together with the eunuch admiral Theophanes who was still in command plotted to restore Romanos to the throne but the plot was quickly uncovered by Constantine VII who when hearing about it dismissed Theophanes from command for good, while Theophylact on the other hand was still kept as patriarch as he was entirely useless being nothing more but literally a clown who even performed theatrical acts when performing the liturgy which was very scandalous, and as mentioned earlier he was lacking in brains and cared more about horses than his religious duties. Romanos I on the other hand did not live long enough and in 948 he died as a monk in the monastery he was sent to.           

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The Mandylion brought to Constantinople in 944, Madrid Skylitzes