To the people living there, this was the Roman Empire or in Medieval Greek Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων (Basileía Rhōmaíōn) "Roman Empire". The short form of the name was simply Ῥωμανία (Rhōmanía - not to be confused with that Romania, although its territory was included in the empire); its inhabitants were "Rhōmaíōi", or Romans. It was largely Greek speaking while the parts of the Empire West of the Adriatic were largely Latin speaking. The name "Byzantine" as we know today was coined, posthumously, by a German historian named Hieronymus Wolf in 1557, after the capital Byzantium, later Constantinople. The empire/kingdom called itself Roman to the very end. The phrase Byzantine Empire remains in use largely because of Pop-Cultural Osmosis but on account of modern revival of interest in this era, it is often used with qualifications and sometimes in alteration with the newer and more accurate Eastern Roman Empire. note
The area of land that comprised the Empire (the territory of classical Greece, such as the Peloponnesian Peninsula, Macedonia, the many islands, the Balkans, Asia Minor, including the Dardanelles and Anatolia, and extending into the Levant) had been part of the hegemony of Alexander the Great and the successor kingdoms formed by his generals (called the Diadochi). Greece was conquered by The Roman Republic in 146 BC, with the remaining Diadochi kingdoms and Hellenic colonies becoming clients and tributary Kingdoms, before eventually becoming entire provinces. The last of the Diadochi fell in the Battle of Actium when Cleopatra VII Philopator, last of the Ptolemaics, committed suicide and Hellenic Egypt became a Roman Province. Hellenic civilization (the Greek language, its philosophies, and classics) had spread as a result of Alexander's conquests and became part of the ground reality even when the Romans took over, forcing the Romans to become partly Hellenized, as per Horace's famous quipnote . After all, the oldest manuscript of the New Testament is in Athenian Greek. Even when The Roman Empire was at its most unified and stable, it gradually became very difficult to govern two drastically different parts of the Empire: the Greek/Hellenic part of the Empire was far more stable and far wealthier than the Western half. The latter gradually decayed during the Crisis of the Third Century, and sacks by the Huns and the breakdown in relations between the capital and its Germanic mercenary tribesmen eventually caused the Latin-speaking Western Empire to fall and break apart, while the Eastern Roman Empire endured and remained active throughout The Middle Ages, becoming the major superpower of the Continent until late in The Crusades.
The Empire itself became more and more Greek or Hellenic, overtaking Latin as the administrative language in the 7th century. Orthodox Christianity was the state religion, and high Romano-Hellenistic traditions of science and literature continued unbroken, though with a Christian overtone. The transition between what we know as classical Rome and medieval Byzantium was a very long and gradual one, so any "founding" date of the Byzantine Empire is completely artificial. There are two dates frequently used by modern historians to separate the "Roman" from the "Byzantine" periods: 324, the year Emperor Constantine I moved his capital to "New Rome" (Constantinople), and 395, when the Roman Empire was formally divided into Western and Eastern halves. Inheriting Roman military philosophy and discipline, Byzantium maintained, at least initially, a highly effective army based on heavy cavalry and professional infantry, and it was the undisputed naval power of Mediterranean Europe in The Low Middle Ages, with its infamous "Greek Fire", whose chemical components are still unknown today. Their naval supremacy was challenged by the Arabs, then on a more concerted basis during The Viking Age by the Rus, Vikings who came down the Volga and through the Black Sea, as well as by their Norman successors who set up shop in Sicily.
Some notable lines of rulers are: the Justinianic dynasty, which saw the largest extent of Roman territory after the fall of the West, the Macedonian dynasty, boasting some of the most capable warrior-emperors, including Basileios (Basil) II the "Bulgar Slayer", the Komnenoi, with Alexios I Komnenos, Ioannes II Komnenos, and Manuel I Kommenos, and finally the Palaiologoi, which restored the kingdom from the mess caused by the Crusaders and defiantly carried on until The Fall of Constantinople. Men didn't have all the fun to themselves, either: there were powerful female figures like Theodora and Irene of Athens. Political rivals had a curious tradition of mutilating their opponent's faces note . While this may seem cruel, it was actually considered a more humane replacement for executing people. Executing them wouldn't give them a chance to repent of what they had done; mutilation, on the other hand, allowed them to live on (often in a monastery) so they had time to repent and still get to heaven.
The Eastern Romans made many plans to re-establish the full territorial Roman Empire, with Justinian coming the closest to doing so, retaking North Africa, Italy, some of what is now southern France, and parts of Spain - commanding the services of the legendary general Flavius Belisarius helped. However, the lengthy wars needed to accomplish this were devastating in Italy and Rome itself, greatly depopulating the city until the Early Modern Era. A terrible plague, the so-called 'Plague of Justinian', the ultimate cause of which is still up for debate (it was probably bubonic plague, but there are also strong arguments that it might have been something else) put an end to that dream, and the greater threat to the East in the form of the Sassanid Empire led the Eastern Romans to play their main geopolitical role as the gatekeepers of Europe, especially after the birth of Islam and the Arab Empires which largely took over the Hellenic-Roman provinces in the Levant and North Africa and established a kingdom in Moorish Spain, but who were constantly repelled from taking over Constantinople. The Empire often saw itself as a cork stopping Islam from spreading into Europe, which, from the late 11th century onwards, periodically convinced their Western European neighbors to help them, even if neither side - with rare exceptions - liked the other very much. However, the 'Latins' did like their wealth and riches, of course. While each ruler of the Empire naturally bestowed on himself the title of Roman Emperor, this was never recognized as legitimate by their neighbors. The Roman Catholic Church saw itself as the true Spiritual Successor of the Roman Empire, and its Pope greatly increased its power and authority by granting legitimacy to the many new Kings and rulers of Western Europe. The most notable example is Charlemagne who was crowned Emperor, and whose kingdom was called Holy Roman Empire in the year 800. The Pope insisted on calling the ruler of Constantinople Imperator Romaniæ ("Emperor of Romania") and later that became ''Imperator Graecorum'' (Emperor of the Greeks) and ''Imperium Graecorum'', ''Graecia'', ''Terra Graecorum'' or even Imperium Constantinopolitanum. These terms de-legitimized the Eastern Romans in the Catholic Lands, which was annoying to the Romans but which they shrugged off, because they had more than enough on their plate in the East with new Kingdoms and threats, as well as many other clients who they had their hands full in balancing each other against them.
The loss of the Western Empire made the Eastern Romans permanently threatened by a multi-front war, but they endured thanks to a strategically important and defensible capital city, and control of the crucial waterways. Its remarkable resilience and repeated habit of coming back from the apparent point of no return never quite changed that essential geopolitical problem that bottled them, as much as they bottled the Arabs and the Persians from coming in West. These problems led to The Crusades, where loss of territory to the Seljuq Turks in the late 11th century (contrary to popular belief, the defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 wasn't a crippling blow, just horrendously embarrassing), coupled with activities by Norman Kingdoms settled in Italy led by Robert Guiscard, who made several concerted attempts to take over the Empire, led them to turn to the Pope for help in dealing with problems east and west of them. The Pope of the time, Urban II, had his own issues with the Normans and the Franks, and was part of the Reform Papacy that was very interested in expanding Papal authority into the secular sphere, and was thus eager to send the latter to "Holy War" in a series of expeditions in the already divided Shia and Turkic kingdoms in the Middle East. Thus the Crusades. This strategy worked for a time, but fatally backfired on them in the Fourth Crusade, where the rising Venetian Empire, growing rich and powerful as a result of the trade and commerce in the Mediterranean that followed the Crusades, saw fit to cut their commercial rival down to size (and seize many lucrative islands in the process). This led to the first and most damaging sack of the city, a body blow which led to a 57-year 'Latin Empire' and the fragmentation of the rest of the Empire, and despite a spirited comeback by the Palaiologoi, it was a blow that the Empire never recovered from. Constantinople was so badly damaged by the Fourth Crusade that it would not quite recover in population and infrastructure until after the Ottomans captured it. The famous Horses of Saint Mark, a triumphal quadriga, was taken by the Venetians (alongside many other artifacts) and placed in pride of place in Saint Mark's Squarenote . The final end of the Empire played a key part in the spread of the Italian Renaissance. Scholars and craftsmen fled the shrinking kingdom in the 15th century, bringing their ideas into Florence and other city-states. Likewise, the end of the main port and pathway for trade to the East led the other Catholic Kingdoms to seek new trade routes, leading to the Age of Discovery.
Speaking of succession, you might ask what has become of the Byzantine/Roman identity. Well, Greek people nowadays still consider Byzantium to be the medieval incarnation of Greece, some even go as far as demanding Istanbul, nay, Constantinople, even Asia Minor back from Turkey. The last attempt to actually force the issue in the immediate aftermath of World War I went badly for Greece. For a while, Russians saw themselves as the spiritual successors of Constantinople too, what with being Orthodox and all (and the czars being descended from the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor), would call Russia's Moscow The "Third Rome" and adopt many Byzantine symbols such as the double-headed eagle. The Russians also point out that their Cyrillic Alphabet was invented by Orthodox Bishops in service of the Eastern Roman Empire. Certainly, they spent the next 450 years trying to conquer Constantinople, making the last real attempt in 1913. On the other hand, the Ottomans in their early years, starting from Fatih Mehmed (Mehmed The Conqueror) called themselves Kayser-I-Rum (Emperor of Rome) and presented themselves as the true inheritors of Byzantium, and their Western invasions were driven by their aim to complete Justinian's dream of reconquering Rome, and Mehmed at least was descended from a Byzantine Princess. Geopolitically, the Ottomans replaced the Byzantines as the Great Power of the Mediterranean, the Balkans and the Middle East, defeating the Venetian Republic that had crippled their predecessors in the Fourth Crusade while also continuing the Eastern Roman Empire's role as the slave power in the Mediterranean. Likewise, in its early years, the Ottoman Empire even had the support from some Orthodox Churches who saw them as an improvement on the Latins (something helped by Mehmed's ample and evident respect for Orthodox Christianity and an attitude among his successors that was generally summed up as 'worship however you damn well like, follow whichever of your own laws you like, we don't care as long as you pay your damn taxes'), and many Greeks, converted or enslaved under the devsirme served as Janissaries (who ended up basically running the Empire). This argument is contentious in both Turkey and Greece for obvious reasons, and the two countries have a somewhat tetchy relationship to this day - disputes over Cyprus don't help.
In either case, the Byzantine Empire straddled several cultures and peoples across Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, and despite seemingly gone forever off the map, it made a huge mark on the history of the world.
Leo I the Thracian (457 - 474)
A Roman general, he was placed on the throne as a puppet emperor but quickly proved to be more than capable of ruling in his own right. His reign was primarily focused on aiding the faltering Western Roman Empire. His attempted reconquest of Africa was a major fiasco however, and he was soon forced to focus on his own part of the empire which was being ravaged by the Ostrogoths. He died of dysentery and was succeeeded by his six year old grandson (Leo II) who would follow him into the grave in less than a year.
Zeno (474 - 475, 476 - 491)
Son-in-law of Leo I and father of Leo II, he was appointed regent over the latter before he died under mysterious circumstances after which he became the next emperor. He was deposed in 475 by Basiliscus (Leo I's brother-in-law and former commander of the disastrous attempted reconquest of Africa) who proved to be an ineffectual ruler and Zeno regained his throne the next year. He spent the rest of his reign fighting civil wars whilst also dealing with religious dissension, this meant that he could do nothing about the Western Roman Empire, which ceased to exist during his reign. He managed to hold on to power, just barely, for over a decade before dying of dysentery.
Justinian (527 - 565)
Emperor in Constantinople, born in Thrace to a fairly low ranking family, he emerged as the power behind the throne during the reign of his uncle Justin I for about a decade before taking the throne himself. He reconquered much of what had been the western Empire, including all of North Africa, almost all of Italy, and significant chunks of Spain. Also known for compiling Roman law in the Corpus Juris Civilis which became the basis for law in civil law jurisdictions, employing the legendary general Belisarius who did most of the conquering and was the last Roman commander to be awarded a Triumph as a result, and Badass Bureaucrat Narses, who did most of the rest, building the splendid Hagia Sophia, dealing with epic scale chariot-racing hooliganism, and being married to cunning ex-"dancer" Theodora. Last Roman Emperor to natively speak Latin.
Maurice (582 - 602)Spent virtually his whole reign at war holding the empire together. He supported Khosrau II's claim to the Persian throne, leading to peace between the two empires upon Khosrau's accession, and the Empire receiving a hefty chunk of Armenia as a reward. He wrote the Big Book of War of his era, the Strategikon. All hell broke loose when he died.
Phocas (602 - 610)
A brilliant general, but arguably the worst emperor in the 1,480-year-long history of the Roman Empire, although he was the last emperor, East or West, to have a monument erected in his honor in the Roman Forum (by a political ally). Assassinated Emperor Maurice and his whole family, leading to Khosrau II declaring war in revenge (or at least, on the pretext of revenge). The Avars and Slavs also invaded the Balkans. He started a reign of terror in Constantinople, and was responsible for the rise of mutilation as a political tactic. When he died, the Empire was on the brink of collapse.
Changed the official language of the Empire to Greek. Married his niece. When much of the empire was being overrun by Persian forces, he led a heroic campaign to reconquer all of it in a sort of proto-Crusade (to the point where he has been dubbed 'the First Crusader'). He succeeded, only to see those same territories lost to the Muslim Arabs. His reign wasn't pointless, though. The territories lost to the Arabs were smaller than the losses to the Persians, who had overrun almost the entire empire, as opposed to the Arabs, who "only" took about half of it (and completely conquered Persia for good measure).
Konstantinos III (641)
Briefly succeeded his father, Heraclius, for four months before his death at the age of 28. His stepmother (and cousin) Martina was accused of murdering him; both she and her son Heraklonas were mutilated and exiled. Konstantinos III's eleven-year-old son Constans succeeded him as emperor.
Constans II (641-668)
An unpopular emperor, who was unsuccessful in war against the Arabs and had to pay off the caliph to stop him from advancing further into Byzantine territory. During his reign, Egypt was lost to the empire forever. He is best known for being the first emperor to visit Rome in 200 years, and for stripping the city of its gold and jewels (including from the Pantheon) and hauling the riches back to Constantinople. Supposedly, he was so hated by the citizenry that he eventually abandoned Constantinople for Syracuse (his actual motives are debated). A servant assassinated him in his bath by bashing his head in with a soap box.
Konstantinos IV (668-685)
Ruled jointly with his brothers Heraklios and Tiberios before having their noses cut off and depriving them of their imperial titles. Defeated the Arabs in the First Siege of Constantinople, which saw the first use of Greek Fire He died aged thirty-three, leaving the throne to his son, Justinian II.
Justinian II (685-695, 705-711)
His despotic rule led to him being ousted in a palace coup, mutilated, and exiled. He escaped to the Khazars (a nomadic tribe of Turkic-speaking Jews, although they weren't Jewish yet at the time), married their khan's sister, and when his brother-in-law agreed to assassinate him (having been bought off by the usurper emperor Tiberios III) Justinian strangled the would-be assassins with his own hands. He escaped the Khazars, vowed revenge on everyone who'd wronged him, and alongside his new allies, the Bulgars, returned to Constantinople in 705 and snuck in via an obscure aqueduct, thus regaining his throne. He captured the two men responsible for his deposition, Leontios and the aforementioned Tiberios, had them trussed and used them as foostools before executing them. He then turned on his former allies, plunged the empire into war, and was deposed and murdered. Has the honor of being a Badass Of The Week.
Leo III the Isaurian (717 - 741)
He stopped the Arabs at the walls of Constantinople in 717. An interesting fellow, who had lived at the eastern edge of the Empire and spoke Arabic, he became convinced that the reason for the Empire's recent defeats was divine punishment—specifically, the consistent disregard for the Second Commandment ("Thou shalt not make any graven image") in the form of icons (the Muslims hewed to this particular commandment very closely). Thus began the campaign of iconoclasm, or image-breaking, by forbidding the veneration of images. This led to instability throughout the Empire, and more significantly, induced the Pope in Rome to act more independently, eventually resulting in the Great Schism some 300 years later.
Irene (797 - 802)
Reigned 780-90 as a regent for her son, then on her own after she had him blinded after he displayed iconoclastic tendencies (she was a fervent iconodoulenote ). This gave The Pope an excuse to crown Charlemagne emperor, under the pretext that the Roman throne was vacant according to Heir Club for Men rules. From then on, the Holy Roman Empire was a rival to Byzantium.
Nikephoros I (802-811)
The Dog of Rome. An all-around disaster as emperor. Fought a war with Charlemagne, the new Augustus in the West, over Venice, which only ended in a stalemate after his death. Also attempted break off the Eastern Roman Empire's practice of paying the Abbasid Caliphate tribute, while also asserting that as the "superior civilisation", the Arabs should have been paying the Byzantines. Harun al-Rashid, Caliph at the time and one of the greatest military and political leaders of the age, promptly handed him his ass on a silver platter during the Abbasid Invasion of Asia Minor (806 AD), which ended with Nikephorus having to sign a peace treaty reaffirming what was essentially, the Byzantines' subservience to the Caliphate. Once peace was finally made with the Muslims, Nikephoros turned his eye on the Bulgars to the north, and brutally sacked the Bulgar capital of Pliska. When he and his troops finally left the city, they were ambushed and almost annihilated by a Bulgar army. He was so hated by now that both sides claim to have killed him. Whatever the truth, most sources agree that the Bulgar Khan Krum came into possession of Nikephoros' skull, which he coated in silver and used as a drinking cup.
Son of Nikephoros I. He barely managed to escape the battle in which his father died, though he did receive a nasty sword wound near his neck that paralyzed him. With his health rapidly fading he was convinced to abdicate in favour of his brother-in-law, Michael Rhangabe. He retired to a monastery where he died shortly after.
Mikhael I Rhangabe (811-813)
Son-in-law of Nikephoros I. Officially recognized Charlemagne as the Western Roman Emperor, who returned Venice to him out of gratitude. He continued to war against the Bulgars, however, and after initial successes they were routed at Versinikia. After this disaster he decided to abdicate the throne and retire to a monastery with his sons, eventually dying in 844. One of his sons eventually became the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Mikhael III (842-867)
Became emperor at the age of two. Supposedly a drunk and a wastrel (his reputation was rather tarnished by historians sucking up to his usurper and his usurper's successors), Mikhael and his special friend Basil conspired to murder Mikhael's uncle and regent, Bardas. Mikhael and Basil then lived in an odd foursome with Mikhael's sister Thekla and Basil's wife, Eudokia Ingerine (who was also Mikhael's mistress) until Basil grew jealous of another courtier's influence on Mikhael and had them both assassinated.
Basil I (867-886)
Called "The Macedonian" although he was, confusingly, of Armenian parentage (later chroniclers tried to claim that, among other things, he was descended from Alexander the Great and thus really royalty after all), Basil was a peasant whose fine physique and lack of scruples brought him to the attention of the Emperor Mikhael III. He assassinated Mikhael, took the throne, and despite these inauspicious beginnings, proved to be an able politician and lawmaker. He despised his second son, Leo, whom he imprisoned and very nearly had killed before Basil died in a "hunting accident", the only witness to which was the father of Leo's girlfriend (and later wife) Zoe.
Leo VI the Philosopher (886-912)
Best remembered today for his bizarre paternity, the scandal created by his four marriages, and his father's attempts to kill him. Leo's mother was the mistress of Emperor Mikhael III and the wife of Emperor Basil I, and it is still debated as to which of them fathered Leo (his own mother may not have known). His first three wives died without giving him a male heir, so Leo married his mistress after she gave birth to a son (the future Konstantinos VII), enraging church leaders who believed that successive marriages were illegal. Had a reputation as not only very wise, but also as something of a prophet and magician.
Konstantinos VII (913-959)
Son of Leo VI and nephew of the Emperor Alexander, and son-in-law of Romanos I. Konstantinos referred to himself as "Konstantinos Porphyrogenitos" (Latinized as "Constantine Porphyrogenitus"), Porphyrogenitus meaning 'born in the purple' (specifically, a special room in the palace made of a kind of rare and expensive purple marble known as Porphyry) to elevate himself above other claimants to the Roman throne. This came to be a key means of elevating an Emperor's claim to the throne. Konstantinos was a scholar, an artist, and an exceptionally able diplomat and politician. During his reign Byzantium prospered in what has come to be known as the "Macedonian Renaissance". He also wrote De Imperio Administrando, which was essentially a how to guide for his son on conducting foreign relations, providing a great deal of detail about the nations around Byzantium and even including advice on how to respond if a foreign power asked to marry a Byzantine Prince or Princess (answer: unless they are a Frank, the answer is no, because Constantine I said so. If they bring up previous relaxations of that rule, i.e. by his step-father, say it was done by idiots who were not born in the purple and thus didn't understand the dignity of imperial office.)
Romanos II (959-963)
After the death of his first wife, Bertha of Italy, Romanos got his father, the emperor Konstantinos VII, to promise that he would be allowed to choose his own second wife. Romanos fell in love with the beautiful daughter of an innkeeper and married her, much to his father's horror. She became known as Theophano. He died at the age of 25, leaving Theophano and three young children.
Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969)
A brilliant general, a terrible diplomat, and a worse politician who married the widowed empress Theophano shortly after the death of her husband, Romanos II. It was a marriage of convenience, however (Nikephoros wanted nothing more than to become a monk, but he was a brilliant general and Theophano needed an Emperor). Built a wall around the Great Palace in Constantinople. It didn't help. Theophano apparently began an affair with his nephew, Ioannes (John) Tzimiskes, and with her probable connivance, he assassinated Nikephoros and paraded his head around on a spike. On his coffin was carved: You conquered all but a woman.
Ioannes I Tzimiskes (969-976)
After assassinating his uncle Nikephoros, Ioannes exiled his lover (and Nikephoros' widow) Theophano at the insistence of the Patriarch, then married Theodora, a sister of the late emperor Romanos. A highly successful general in his own right, he died suddenly while returning home from campaigning against the Abbasid Empire. Legend has it that he was poisoned by a courtier. He was succeeded by Basil, son of Romanos II and Theophano.
Basil II 'the Bulgar-slayer' (976 - 1025)
Expanded the Empire to its greatest extent since the Arab invasions. He gained his fearsome moniker by ruthlessly subduing Bulgaria, and allegedly blinding 99 out of every 100 Bulgar captives after a major battle, which supposedly led the Bulgar king to die of shock. While this is unlikely to be true, it was the sort of thing he was considered to be capable of. A hyper-competent general and administrator, the Empire was the most powerful country in Europe and the Mediterranean during his reign; this period also brought great wealth, and some lists of history's wealthiest individuals list Basil at the very top (by any measure, he ranks very highly). Would quite possibly have been the greatest ruler in the Empire's history if he had ever actually married and provided a decent heir. Died of an illness while preparing to reconquer Sicily.
Konstantinos VIII (1025-1028)
Brother, supposed co-Emperor (Basil had ruled in practice) and successor of Basil II. Already an elderly man when he became emperor, he ruled capriciously and cruelly. He had no sons, so the empire was left to his daughters, Zoe and Theodora, and Zoe's husband, Romanos III.
Daughter of Konstantinos VIII and sister of the Empress Theodora. Her father kept her and her sister from marrying until they were both almost fifty years old. From 1028 she ruled alongside her three husbands and then her sister. Her first husband, Romanos III, was found dead in his bath in 1034, and Zoe married her lover, who became the emperor Mikhael IV, later that same day. After Mikhael IV's death, Zoe's adopted son and Mikhael's nephew Mikhael V banished her to a monastery, but she returned after a coup removed Mikhael V from power, blinding him and sending him to a Monastery. She was forced to share power with her sister Theodora. Hoping to diminish her sister's power, Zoe married a third time, to Konstantinos Monomakhos, who after her death continued ruling alongside Theodora.
Konstantinos IX Monomakhos (1042-1055)
Co-ruler with his wife Zoe (who was about twenty years older than him). Militarily he was a weak ruler and during his reign the religious schism between Constantinople and Rome resulted in the splitting of the church into the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches.
The younger sister of Zoe, Theodora was much plainer than the beautiful Zoe but also more intelligent and determined. She never married nor had children; shortly before her death she chose Mikhael Bringas as her successor.
Non-dynast old man
Mikhael VI Bringas (1056-1057)
An elderly bureaucrat. He couldn't gain the support of the military, who forced him to abdicate to the general Isaac Komnenos.
First try of the Komnenid dynasty
Isaac I Komnenos (1057-1059)
A well-respected general. He immediately set out to restore the empire's finances. He fell gravely ill after a successful campaign against the Pechenegs and his courtiers used this opportunity to force him to abdicate. His family would eventually regain the imperial throne and become known as one of the great imperial dynasties.
Constantine X Doukas (1059-1067)
Replaced a large portion of the Byzantine Army with mercenaries to save costs. His decision to disband the Armenian local militia contributed heavily to its swift fall to the Seljuk Turks, leaving Anatolia dangerously vulnerable. Large portions of Italy and the Balkan territories were also lost during his reign. When he died he insisted that only his sons should succeed him, which his wife quickly ignored by marrying Romanos Diogenes.
Romanos IV Diogenes (10681071)
Perhaps unfairly, by far most famous for the Battle of Manzikert (which was not the cataclysmic defeat it has since been painted as, in military terms, just incredibly embarrassing). He sought to decisively defeat the leader of the Seljuk Turks and thus stop the bandit raids on the eastern borderlands, which would have been a better idea if Sultan Alp Arslan was the least bit interested in attacking the Romaioinote and/or the bandits doing the raiding even pretended to acknowledge his authority. Moreover, the implementation of the plan would have gone rather better had one of Romanos' commanders not vanished with a third of the army before the battle and another not spread rumors of his fall during it.
Wounded and captured, Romanos IV was the first Roman Emperor to be a POW in over eight centuries. His captor, once the ritual boot-on-neck thing was done with, was quite chivalrous about the matter; treating him as an honored guest, negotiating an affordable ransom, securing minor border adjustments, and providing Romanos an escort 'fit for an emperor' to return to Constantinople. Cue civil war, deposition, blinding, death, more civil war, nomadic Turks wandering into what had been reduced to sheep pasture over the past few decades, said Turks being hired to deal with one faction or another, etc...
Mikhael VII Doukas (1071 - 1078)
Son of Constantine X. He was uninterested in politics, surrounding himself with sycophants and incompetents while the empire crumbled around him. Lost much of Asia Minor to the Turks, only having to call upon said Turks to help put down a mercenary revolt. The empire's last possession in Italy, Bari, was also lost during his reign. The army eventually mutinied and Mikhael abdicated without a fight, retiring to a monastery where he died in 1090.
Nikephoros III Botaneiates (1078 - 1081)
A competent general with a long but unremarkable career, he rebelled against Mikhael with the aid of the Turks and became emperor at the ripe old age of 79. His lack of political acumen and allies meant that uprisings began all across the empire, which he barely put down. Eventually the Normans invaded in support of one of Mikhael VII's sons, only failing because they were recalled by the pope. The army sent to deal with this threat, led by Alexios Komnenos, mutinied shortly afterwards and Nikephoros quickly abdicated.
The Return of the Komnenid dynasty
Alexios I Komnenos (1081 - 1118)
Nephew of Isaac I, an accomplished general, fighting off concerted attempts by the Norman Duke of Apulia, Robert Guiscard, to conquer the Empire. Appealed to the Pope and the western European kingdoms for assistance against the Turks, leading to The Crusades, something which he did not expect but adapted admirably to - in essence, he shipped the Crusaders to Asia Minor, gave them supplies and a moderately sized force of his own men after talking them into an oath to give back any territory conquered which had previously been Byzantine, and followed along behind, mopping up Asia Minor. Halted the Empire's sharp decline after the disasters of the mid 11th century, at least for a while, reconquering Asia Minor - and if it had not been for a false report from a high ranking Crusader deserter, Stephen of Blois, and the ambition of Bohemond of Taranto (who decided he wanted Antioch), he'd probably have reclaimed the Middle East as well.
Ioannes II Komnenos (1118-1143)
Son of Alexios I, and brother of Anna Komnene, author of literature/The Alexiad (she despised him and tried to seize the throne from him). A strict but moral ruler, and a successful general and diplomat.
Manuel I Komnenos (1143 - 1180)
Youngest son of Ioannes II, but became emperor due to a prophecy. Pursued an aggressive foreign policy and expanded the Empire, getting on very well with the West and bringing the Principality of Antioch firmly under his thumb, but his conquests didn't last long.
Alexios II Komnenos (1180-1183)
He was eleven-years-old when his father, Manuel I, died. His father's cousin Andronikos Komnenos became regent, removed Alexios' mother and her supporters from power, and eventually had Alexios II himself strangled with a bow-string. Alexios' mother, sister, and most of the rest of his relatives would die at Andronikos' hands.
Andronikos I Komnenos (1183-1185)
Ne'er-do-well cousin of Manuel I, he took over as regent for Manuel's underage son, Alexios II, and then killed the boy, the dowager empress, and most of the rest of the imperial family while he was at it. He also married Alexios II's child-widow, Princess Agnes of France, even though he was past sixty and she was only eleven. Tried to flee the city in panic after the commoners revolted in support of his cousin Isaakios Angelos, but was captured, brutally tortured, and executed. His sons were killed as well, but two grandsons survived and eventually founded the independent state of Trebizond in 1204.
Isaakios II Angelos (1185-1195, 1203-1204)
A distant cousin of his predecessor Andronikos I, he came to the throne due a bizarre fluke (he killed an official who'd come to arrest him; in the ensuing chaos, Andronikos tried to flee, was captured and executed, and Isaakios took his place). His adored brother, Alexios, repaid his trust by staging a coup, blinding him, and stealing his crown. Briefly returned to power after the Fourth Crusade ousted Alexios III in 1203. He quarrelled with his son and co-ruler, Alexios IV, and became paranoid and obsessed with regaining his lost sight. Died of shock when his son was murdered by the usurper Alexios Mourtzophlos.
Alexios III Angelos (1195-1203)
Brother and usurper of Isaakios II. A decadent and weak ruler who bankrupted the state and let the warships rot in the harbor, when the Fourth Crusade arrived on the scene he sneaked out of the city under cover of night, abandoning his daughters and wife but taking with him what was left of the treasury. His only real ally was the Seljuk sultan Keyhüsrev, who regarded him as a surrogate father and died in battle trying to help Alexios regain his lost empire.
Alexios IV Angelos (1203-1204)
Son of Isaakios II, the teenaged Alexios escaped his uncle Alexios III and made his way to Germany, where his sister Irene was empress to the Holy Roman Emperor Philipp of Swabia. He met with the pope and promised him the moon in return for the Fourth Crusade's diversion to Constantinople. After his uncle fled the city, the Crusaders set Alexios IV up as co-ruler alongside his father, but Isaakios II resented his son and thwarted him at every turn when, full credit to him, he tried his best to follow through on his promises. The courtier Alexios Mourtzophlos staged a coup and murdered Alexios IV; the Crusaders attacked the city in retribution, leading to the disastrous Sack of Constantinople.
Alexios V Doukas "Mourtzophlos" (1204)
A courtier who'd been imprisoned by Alexios III for romancing the emperor's daughter, Eudokia. Though freed by Alexios IV, he nevertheless turned on the young emperor, killed him, and declared himself emperor. He fled Constantinople when the Crusaders attacked. While exiled, he joined up with his father-in-law, Alexios III, who treacherously blinded him and left him for the Crusaders to find. He was executed by being thrown from the top of the Column of Theodosios. He was the last Greek, or Byzantine, emperor to rule Constantinople for 57 years, until the accession of Mikhael VIII Palaiologos. His nickname, mourtzophlos, meant "hairy eyebrows".
Mikhael VIII Palaiologos (12591282)
A great-grandson of Emperor Alexios III on his mother's side, Mikhael was brought up in the sophisticated court of the emperor of Nikaia (Nicaea, a Greek splinter state founded after Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in 1204). Charismatic and talented, Mikhael made himself regent for the seven-year-old boy emperor of Nikaia, Ioannes IV Doukas Laskaris. The Byzantines recaptured Constantinople in 1261, pouring in through an unlocked gate in the city walls (yes, really) and Mikhael took the opportunity to crown himself and his infant son Andronikos as emperors. The boy-emperor Ioannes IV was quietly blinded and locked up in a monastery. A schemer and a dissembler, Mikhael helped incite the Sicilian Vespers against his enemy, the powerful Charles of Anjou who had had ambitions of reconquering Constantinople and re-establishing the Latin Empire; assisted Pedro III of Aragon in invading Sicily; and instigated revolts in Crete against the Venetians. His dynasty would rule Constantinople until the city fell to the Turks in 1453.
Andronikos III Palaiologos (1328-1341)
He accidentally murdered his own brother Manuel in 1320, having mistaken Manuel for his mistress's lover. Their father, co-emperor Mikhael IX, died of grief and their grandfather, Andronikos II, disowned him. This led to civil war between grandfather and grandson. Eventually, Andronikos III was recognized as co-emperor, and in 1328 he deposed his grandfather altogether. During his reign, Serbia and the Ottoman Turks steadily chipped away at Byzantine territory.
Konstantinos XI Palaiologos (1449 - 1453)
The last emperor in the east, he led Constantinople in a heroic Last Stand against the Turks. His body was never found, elevating him to legendary status. A legend among the Greeks states that he was saved by an angel, and that he will return one day to reconquer Constantinople for the Greeks.
Tropes applicable to the Eastern Roman Empire:
- Arch-Enemy: As it turned out, the Seljuk and Osman/Ottoman Turks who in the latter case had ironically been steadfast allies. Before that, the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt. Before that, the Abbasid and Fatimid Caliphates. Before that, Persia. It also had some really nasty wars with Bulgaria for a century or two.
- Also the Papacy, Venice, and the Holy Roman Emperor also had their time as the Archenemy of Rome.
- Serbia as well, at least for a little while. There was one point in the thirteenth century where the odds were pretty good that Serbia could have invaded the entire empire. They failed obviously, but not from a lack of trying.
- The Normans were this for a considerable period of 11th century, with Robert Guiscard, the Duke of Apulia, making significant inroads into the western part of the empire. He was beaten back by Warrior Prince Alexius I Comnenus, who countered his every move, then bribed the Holy Roman Emperor to invade Guiscard's territory.
- Art Evolution: Byzantine art endured through Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Though heading in an Oriental direction, it was very continuous and gave us the love for strong colours and intricate patterns that can still be seen in the aesthetics of Orthodox churches. And have you seen the Byzantine way of dressing reconstructed? Set quite the tone for Eastern European folk outfits, didn't it? All of that evolved more or less from the Roman tunic, with an exotic whiff from Persia.
- Ascended Fanon: In the "Digest" section, Emperor Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis made some things legally binding that earlier were mere legal opinions by scholars. They especially did this with the opinions of Ulpian (a first-rank jurist who had also served as de facto prime minister off and on during the reigns of Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Alexander Severus before being assassinated by the Praetorian Guard).
- Badass Decay: Towards the end. As more territory was lost, there simply wasn't enough economic base to gain back the wealth and power it once had.
- At its worst, all that was left of the Empire was Constantinople itself and the immediate surrounding land, a few islands, and the Peloponnese peninsula. The situation was so dire that the last Emperors were officially vassals of the Ottoman Sultan.
- There is no historical consensus on when the Badass Decay began. Western scholars during the Enlightenment period tended to view the entire history of the Byzantine Empire as a sad, pathetic shadow of the former Roman Empire, but more recent historians tend to emphasize the resiliency and adaptability of the Byzantine Empire, as well as its vast wealth and power it possessed during most of its history. Various periods have been proposed as the beginning of decline, including the Sassanid War (602-628), the Arab Wars (beginning 634), the arrival of the Turks and the battle of Manzikert (1071), the death of the last great Komnenian Emperor, Manuel I Komnenos (1180), and the Fourth Crusade (1204). All of these events were certainly disasters for the Byzantines (except for Manzikert, which was just incredibly embarrassing), but historians disagree on where the Byzantines had declined past the point of no return. For example, the permanent loss of Alexandria to the Arabs in 641 permanently crippled the Byzantines as a major Empire, but their continuation as one of the most powerful nations despite the loss for at least 550 years (and continued existence for a further 260 years beyond that) would seem to indicate that their throat had not yet been cut. Regardless, modern historians tend to agree that the Fourth Crusade had finally put the nail in the coffin of the Byzantines, and although they would regain Constantinople, they were essentially powerless from then on.
- That said, historian Jonathan Harris noted the Empire's nigh impossible ability to come back from the point of no return and notes that if the then tiny and unremarkable Ottoman Emirate had not secured a foothold in Europe in the 14th century, the Empire might well have been able to perform its traditional exploitation of its enemies divisions and rise again.
- And the Empire nearly did rise again, but the plague got in the way - the very same which became known as the Black Death in Europe. Justinian's conquests as well could have been held if it weren't for Justinian's plague, which itself recurred several times before 8th century or so. One begins to see the pattern here.
- Balkanize Me: After the shock of the Fourth Crusade, where invaders from Catholic Europe on the way to wrest Jerusalem from Muslim rule instead invaded Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire balkanized as a result of there being not only multiple rival Orthodox Christian claimants to the imperial throne but also squabbling Latin Crusaders who wanted to carve out their own independent territories. You had Epiros (northwestern Greece), the duchy of Athens, Naxos, Rhodes, the kingdom of Thessalonica, the principality of Achaea (southern Greece), the Empire of Nikaea (Asia Minor), and the Empire of Trebizond (which despite calling itself an empire at its peak consisted of the southernmost tip of the Crimean peninsula and... well, Trebizond itself and its surrounding areas). Some were reincorporated into the Byzantine Empire, but a few like Trebizond would hold out for a while even after the Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Ottoman Empire.
- Berserk Button: Chosroes II, emperor of Sassanid Persia, had the Empire on the ropes, winning battle after battle. Newly-crowned Emperor Heraclius was planning to ditch Constantinople and take up the less deadly job of ruling over the ruins of the probably doomed empire in North Africa. High on his own success, Chosroes sent Heraclius a letter, calling the Eastern Roman emperor his 'insensate slave' and then went on to taunt him by pointing out that Persia and its sun-worshiping religion was awesome and asked what good Jesus was if he couldn't even manage to save his own life? When the people of Constantinople heard this, they instantly transformed from whipped into extremely pissed off, Heraclius discovered a pair of testicles in his trousers, and beat the Persians back and regained lost Byzantine territory, including pretty much the entirety of the Middle East. A few years later, the burgeoning Muslim armies were able to destroy Chosroes' forces, and Sassanid Persia was conquered; Chosroes, after losing his empire, was later assassinated.
- Big Book of War: Several. Many of the most famous of these were Byzantine field manuals, such as Strategikon by Maurikios (Maurice).
- Big Fancy Castle: Constantinople itself. It withstood more then a dozen sieges that would otherwise have destroyed the Empire, remaining effectively impervious for most of a millennium (the mighty Theodosian Walls weren't breached until the final siege of Constantinople, and even then, the entrance of the Ottomans is sometimes attributed simply to Zerg Rush or someone forgetting to lock a side gate) and frequently reduced visitors to dumbstruck awe, to the point where the Vikings referred to it as 'Miklagard', considering it the greatest city in the world. The town of Istambul is even today referred as 'Miklagard' in Icelandic. The great town walls survive even today.
- Book-Ends: Born by Constantine I, died with Constantine XI.
- Also, possibly their greatest emperor was named Justinian, and the commander of the Genoese allies at The Fall of Constantinople was named Gustiniani, the Italian version of Justinian.
- Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: The Varangian Guard was made up first of Vikings, and then, after the Battle of Hastings, of Anglo-Saxons. The last heir to the House of Wessex, Edgar the Atheling, is also speculated to have served in the Guard. They had a reputation for, unlike the Praetorian Guard, which had been prone to politicking, being pathologically loyal to the Emperor. Unfortunately for more than one Emperor, this loyalty only lasted while the Emperor in question was alive.
- The Chessmaster: This reputation is a bit exaggerated, at least if one is comparing it to other states. Still there is a reason we speak of "byzantine" scheming.
- Some of it is Western bias against the Byzantines, partly engendered by cultural and religious differences, but some of it is rather justified. After all, they were for much of their history an empire that had to deal with Catholic countries that disputed their right to exist to the west and north, barbarian powers to the north (including Vikings) and various militantly expansionist Islamic empires to the east and south simultaneously, so their foreign policy had to be devious. As it was, they became very, very good at it.
- City of Spies: It wasn't called "Byzantine" for nothing, although that term only has such connotations because it was invented by historians (never used by the Byzantines themselves) to distinguish between what were, practically speaking, phases of the Roman Empire. All of which seems somewhat recursive.
- In short, the stereotype has a grain of truth in it.
- Combat Pragmatist: while they were something of a Proud Warrior Race, particularly the Anatolian aristocracy (particularly the Phokas, Doukas and Komnenos dynasties) who dominated the imperial throne for centuries and felt that a strong military man should be in charge, they definitely did not put Honor Before Reason, with the use of spies and bribes being a key part of their tactical doctrine, as noted in several versions of the Big Book of War. They could be pretty effective though.
- Cool vs. Awesome: Byzantium was around for a thousand years and was essentially the Roman Empire. This led to match-ups you'd expect to see in an anachronistic strategy game, such as Romans vs Normans and Romans vs Vikings.
- Determinator: Repeatedly came back from disasters that would have (and did) fell other empires, with enemies frequently coming to the very gates of Constantinople before often being thwarted by the strategic positioning of the city, the nigh impenetrable Land Walls and Greek Fire, which usually allowed it to either obliterate its enemies or outlast them - and it was very good at the latter, essentially waiting until they fell over and died of their own accord (often giving them a hearty push on the way down), then exploiting the inevitable squabbling between different factions to restore their own fortunes. They were so good at this that historian Jonathan Harris has speculated that if the Ottomans, then an insignificant little Emirate, hadn't been fortunate enough to establish a strategically vital foothold in Europe, or even if the Empire had got around to kicking them out before it was too late, then they might well have pulled yet another Lazarus act.
- A fundamental aspiration for pretty much every Muslim polity in the region was to take Constantinople, something mentioned in the Quran. They first tried in 674 AD. They didn't succeed until 1453, nearly 800 years, five Muslim sieges and six or seven major Muslim empires later. Not for nothing has it been referred to as 'The Empire That Would Not Die'.
- Deadly Decadent Court: As expected from a millennium-old political entity (millennium and a half, if you count the Roman Empire before it, two-millennium old if you count the Roman Republic). We didn't get the word "byzantine" in English for nothing. (It's a negative stereotype held by Western Europe, granted, but there was a significant element of truth to it).
- Enemy Mine: the Byzantines had absolutely no problem maintaining diplomatic relations (in fact, they pretty much invented the modern concept of Ambassadors) with their enemies, particularly Muslims (something which baffled Westerners) and working with them to pursue mutual interests. In fact, the First Crusade could be seen entirely as this, with the Byzantine Emperor providing the Crusaders with supplies and ships to carry them across the Bosphorus, then merrily followed along behind the vast trail of destruction the Crusaders left behind, mopping up any remaining enemies and retaking territories by the dozen.
- Eye Scream: A particular favourite method of dealing with rivals for the throne was having their eyes put out and shipping them to a monastery to spend the rest of their days, since someone so disfigured could not take the throne.
- Basil II 'the Bulgar-Slayer' allegedly did this to more than 14000 prisoners of war after his victory in the battle of Kleidion. One in a hundred of them was allowed to keep one eye to lead them back to the Bulgarian Tsar Samuel, who is said to have suffered a heart attack from the sight of his men. This is suspected to be a later exaggeration, since it isn't mentioned in many contemporary accounts, but it isn't exactly out of character for the Byzantines either...
- Evil Sorcerer: In a sense, compared to the Rus' and Seljuk's Barbarian Hero. This was a powerful, seemingly nigh-omnipotent empire that had control of high advanced sciences (for the time anyway) like Greek Fire, which destroyed several barbarian and Arab fleets, that would have certainly resembled magic to the barbarian warriors of the Seljuk and Rus. Hell, the Byzantines even kept up the proud Roman tradition of referring to anyone who wasn't them as "barbarians" anyway and their foreign policy was mostly predicated on overawing said barbarians. Whether they were evil depends on your point of view of course, but it's worth remembering that the Seljuks were basically just fleeing death at the hands of the Mongols when they migrated to Asia Minor.
- Gorgeous Greek:
- Hellenic aesthetics enforced this, since the Emperor was expected to be an reflection of God's perfection and so his body should be unblemished. This is why disfigurement was considered an standard practice towards enemies to prevent them from taking power, since with their beauty ruined was a Fate Worse than Death.
- Byzantine women were also considered very desirable and enticing to foreigners, specially Arabs who sought them for their harems and became mothers of many caliphs. To name the most famous Greek concubines were Qaratis, Hubshiya, Qurb and Shaghab.
- Femme Fatale: Byzantine women in general were stereotyped as such by both Western and Arabic chronicles. The truth was obviously a far cry from these depictions since they were traditionally considered retiring, shy, modest, and devoted to their families and religious observances. Still some examples provided:
- Perhaps most famously Empress Theodora, who started out in life as an underage prostitute before graduating into becoming a star "actress".note She subsequently charmed her way into the Byzantine court and stole the heart of the much older Justinian, eventually becoming his wife and his effective co-ruler.
- The empress Zoe is portrayed this way in the Norse sagas, where she tries to cougar it up with the decades-younger Harald Hardrada, at the time (1041) a twenty-something Viking prince in exile serving in the Varangian guard.
- Four-Star Badass: Most famously Flavius Belisarius but a few others, including Warrior Emperors Heraclius, John Tzimisces and Alexius I Comnenus. The Empire was better known for dependability rather then badassery, but they had their moments.
- Narses: Went out to face the chariot gangs/political parties of the Nika riots with nothing more than a bag of gold and a smooth tongue. Commanded troops in Italy at the age of eighty-three, having spent his career as a taxman, and won.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: The Byzantine women were quite on par with the men, when it came to court intrigues. Possibly the most iconic case is Empress Theodora, an ex-"dancer" and the wife to Justinian I, considered to have had a notable impact on his policies - to the detriment of the unfortunate and brilliant General Flavius Belisarius. Some adaptations go as far as to make him Henpecked Husband. Then there was Empress Irene, whose reign was so reviled in the West, she might well be personally responsible for The Pope crowning Charlemagne as Emperor, as a "screw-you-Byzantines" gesture.
- Irene's reputation was somewhat deserved, since she had her own son the Emperor Constantine VI blinded and usurped his throne for opposing her on religious matters, particularly iconoclasm. Yet she was apparently a good ruler, at least because she managed to end the long and destructive religious conflict over iconoclasm (at least for a few decades).
- Going Native: To a degree. While the Byzantines adamantly held to being Roman, the Eastern half always retained its Hellenistic heritage. And as the centuries passed, the Empire embraced this aspect more and more, with the transition from Latin to Greek being just one example. This was cemented following the retaking of Constantinople in 1261 and the Byzantines referring to themselves as 'Hellenes' instead of the traditional 'Romaioi' - though this had a lot to do with the considerable grudge felt towards westerners.
- Great Big Book of Everything: For the reign of Justinian and Theodora, Procopius is the key historian. His books chronicle the famous incidents, Belisarius' campaign and the Buildings of Justinian, including the famous Hagia Sophia. However, all of this is overshadowed by the controversial Secret History unearthed nearly a thousand years later where Procopius, formerly loyal and respectful to Justinian, lets loose and puts a scathing indictment of his former patron, his whore of a wife who dragged the Emperor to misery, of how Belisarius - who he worked for and hero-worshipped - was a Cuckold and how Byzantium was so much hot air. Historians don't know what to make of this book, but one common theory is that he wrote that after being fired by his patrons for some reason or the other.
- It should be noted that detailed study of Procopius' other works has revealed hints of his true attitudes, towards Theodora (who he despised) from the start, and towards Belisarius near the end of The Wars as he grew steadily disillusioned with his idol, and he went on to write The Buildings afterwards, suggesting that the Secret History was more in order of a vent for his frustrations.
- Later Constantine VII wrote De Administrando Imperio, a big book on how to run the Empire, for his son. It includes just about everything, including the precise response that should be given to barbarian envoys asking for a Byzantine Princess to marry their ruler (answer: essentially, 'no dice, Constantine I said we couldn't unless they're Franks.' If the times this policy was breached are brought up, the answer to that is, 'the Emperor who did that was not a true Roman Emperor born and raised in the purple'.)
- Then there's the Suda written in the 10th Century CE. This is considered the earliest prototype of the Modern Encyclopedia and it served as a major reference point for writers and historians.
- For the reign of Alexius I Comnenus, there's The Alexiad written by his daughter, Anna Comnena. This book covers parts of his military career and entire reign; it contains an account of the First Crusade and various wars between the Normans and Byzantines.
- Hijacked by Jesus: The first in Europe, ironically.
- To be more specific, what became known as Orthodox Christianity became the state religion of the Eastern Empire shortly after Constantine's death. By the Middle Ages, it had reached the point where it was intertwined with Byzantium itself.
- Horse Archer: Both the light skirmisher and the heavy volley-shooting variants. The Byzantine army had them alongside the more traditional cataphracts (armoured cavalry).
- Horny Vikings: Serving as the Praetorian Guard, called the Varangian Guard. Of course, towards the end of the Empire the post was more often filled by dispossessed Saxon noblemen fleeing William the Conqueror's Harrying of the North. Nonetheless, the Saxons looked close to pass for Scandinavians to the southerly eyes of the Greeks, and were thus able to play up the image of a savage northern barbarian well enough to find work in the guard. Essentially, there was a point that came when Varangian Guard (somewhat unfairly) stopped meaning "badass Viking" and started meaning "guys who got their asses kicked by the Vikings and their descendants".
- Hypocrite: The Byzantines were very serious about their Romanness, but derided Latins as inferior barbarians and occasionally slaughtered them (which triggered the Venetians sack of Constantinople). One could only wonder what the original Romans would say if they could see it.
- In Name Only: This is the viewpoint of the Catholic world, as well as most modern Western historians (though that opinion is changing):
- Byzantium's Western rivals were not inclined to consider it the legitimate heir of old Rome, but instead Imperium Graecorum, or Empire of the Greeks. Additionally, the Scandinavian Varangians described the country they served in as "Greece". Modern Western historians apply the term "Byzantine Empire," which was never used by the Byzantines themselves (they had always referred to themselves as the Roman Empire), to the Eastern Roman Empire after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in ~476. There are other conventions as to when exactly they should be considered "Byzantine" instead of "Roman," but referring to the "Roman Empire" past the 8th century is highly unusual.
- The Western Europeans resented the Byzantine's claim to Rome for the same reason the late Western Romans were resented by their "barbarian" conquerors. The restriction of citizenship and knowledge to an elite, neglecting the fact that the "barbarians" had long been serving the Roman armies and participated in Roman institutions yet were denied entry into the elite, and the fact that far from ending Roman civilization as popularly believed, the Barbarians and the left-over institutions especially the Catholic Church preserved a great deal of Roman influence. All of which was swept away thanks to Justinian's brutal conquest of Italy, which at point left Rome nearly depopulated.
- The Arabs are a subversion, as the Arabic name for the Byzantines, was al-Rūm ("Rūm" is pronounced the way Americans say "room"), derived from "Roman". In other words, the Arabs saw the Byzantines exactly as they saw themselves. With Muslims in particular having some sympathy for them as they too were fellow monotheists.note They also found the Byzantines much more reasonable than the Crusaders, who both derided as uncultured, unwashed religious fanatics.
- The Ottoman Turks also likewise saw no discontinuity between the Byzantines and the Ancient Romans. In fact, Mehmet the Conqueror believed he was destined to not only conquer the Byzantines, but also the Italians in the west, thus reuniting the old empire as the new Caesar.
- Indentured Servitude: Slavery and serfdom was common in the Byzantine Empire, and indeed the word slavery derives from the same ethnoynm as "Slav" referring to the fact that many slavic tribes in Eastern Europe were slaves traded across the Mediterranean by the Byzantines, the Venetians, Moorish Spain and the Ottomans.
- Knight in Shining Armor: The katafraktoi and the Western mercenary knights.
- Last Stand: Made by the emperor himself during the final siege of Constantinople in 1453... nobody knows what happened to him., and a legend circulated that he had been turned into a statue and would return one day to reclaim the city.
- Lightning Bruiser: The katafraktoi, the Byzantine cataphracts (armoured cavalry). Armed with both bow and lance, they could take on almost any enemy. An even heavier (albeit slower) variant, klibanophoroi existed.
- Medieval Grome
- Playing with Fire: The Byzantine Navy was well-equipped with flamethrowers firing a napalm-like substance called Greek Fire (in the West. The Byzantine called it Liquid Fire), that would burn even when soaked with water. Losing access to the areas that provided the components was a terrifying blow for the Empire, and the reason why the Fourth Crusade was successful instead of incinerated on sight, as a number of Arab, Viking and Bulgarian fleets had been.
- Praetorian Guard: The Varangian Guard, made up of Vikings. Unlike the original, it wasn't usually prone to betraying Emperors, but it did have an Exact Words kind of loyalty towards the office, rather than the person, of the Emperor - in other words, if an Emperor had been assassinated, they'd swear loyalty to the usurper over his predecessor's warm body.
- Recycled In Space: The Roman Empire in the East!
- At this point, it's worth noting that even during the glory days of The Roman Empire, the power of the Empire was always centered in the East due to the higher population, better fertility, and vastly greater urbanization and education among the peoples. In fact, historians generally agree that this is why the Eastern Roman Empire was able to survive the massive crises of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries, while the Western Roman Empire imploded.
- The Remnant: Even after Constantinople fell, a number of Byzantine remnants held out against the Ottomans for a few more decades, such as Mystras and Trebizond.
- The Rival: To the Papacy and the Venetian Republic, the Carolingian and Holy Roman Empires, as well as Sassanid Persia, the Abbasid, Umayyyad and Fatimid Caliphates, and ultimately the Ottoman Turks.
- Serious Business: In the capital city, you could generally get a good riot going over two things: chariot races, and theology. The common folks took both of these very seriously (see the page quote), to the point where both were known to topple Emperors.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Omnipresent with the English convention of Latinizing rather than transliterating Greek names. Hence 'Nikiforos' becomes 'Nicephorus'.
- The Theocracy: Even by the standards of medieval Christian societies, the line between the business of the state and of the church was an extremely thin one in Constantinople. Emperors had considerable say over ecclesiastical and theological matters, and religious disputes often had very significant political ramifications. There was a Patriarch who could and often did resist the Emperor's meddling in the church, and most Westerners overestimated how much power over the Church the Emperor had (which led to very real problems late in the game when the Pope demanded that the Byzantine Church unify with Rome in exchange for military aid from Catholic rulers, assuming that the Emperor could just order his people and church into compliance). Still, generally the Emperors enjoyed a religious authority most if not all Catholic rulers lacked or had to lock horns with the papacy for.
- To Win Without Fighting: A large part of their strategy. They were more inclined toward chessmastery then straightforward fighting for the sensible reason that some other ruler would always fill the place of any they overthrew and any given rival might prove an ally some day.
- Tragic Mistake: One could argue their chessmastery of gradually annexing all of the individual Armenian kingdoms in the 1000's directly led to their undoing; once having completely conquered Armenia and disbanded its armies (previously each individual region of Armenia had its own militia protecting it, but this was made illegal under the Justinian reforms), replacing them with Byzantine draftees who had little to no incentive in defending Armenia, they might as well have left a welcome mat for the Turks who then easily invaded Anatolia, and a few hundred years later, took Constantinople. The Armenian kingdoms had been the cork keeping the Turkic tribes out of the area.
- If Heraclius hadn't crippled Sassanid Persia, the Muslims might not have been such a problem.
- Underestimating Badassery: Both by their enemies and by latter day historians, the latter eager to dismiss it as a vestige of The Glory That Was Rome and a failure. While the latter was true in the sense that it wasn't capable of going out and conquering whosoever it pleased, it went toe to toe with the Persian Empire for over two hundred years without the support of its Western half, ultimately crippling it and leaving it easy prey for the emerging Muslim Caliphate, stopped the Caliphate and its various successors cold at Asia Minor for centuries and prevented Muslim powers from gaining a beach head in Eastern Europe for over 700 years, survived the passing of the Mongols and multiple major bouts of the Black Plague. Furthermore, it repeatedly recovered from circumstances that would and did destroy any number of other empires, maintained a continuous state for a thousand years. Outside of its heartland, it retained a presence in Western Europe for over six hundred years, ruling large portions of Italy and North Africa, as well as bits of Spain, for hundreds of years. Not for nothing was it called by historian John Haldon, 'The Empire that Would Not Die'.
- Vestigial Empire: One of the most enduring examples. Many modern historians argue that its stereotypical image as this has been exaggerated for centuries by Western European bias, but it almost certainly qualified from the Fourth Crusade onwards and especially in its final decades.
- Warrior Prince: many a Byzantine Emperor either began as a talented general before being chosen/choosing to become Emperor, or had considerable talent in that direction to begin with. Examples include Heraclius, who crippled Sassanid Persia and retook most of Asia Minor and the Middle East.
- Worthy Opponent: Was considered to be this by the various Muslim powers, especially after the latter encountered the Crusaders, who were derided by Muslims and Byzantines alike as savage, unwashed and uncultured religious fanatics (which wasn't all that far from the truth, at times).
- Also grudgingly deemed the Franks to be this, in the form of Holy Roman Empire, being the one people the Byzantines were openly willing to marry their Princesses off to (though in the case of Otto II, it was heavily suspected that the Byzantines had pulled a fast one and sent the niece of the usurping Ioannes Tzimiskes instead of the promised Princess. As it was, Empress Theophano turned out to be a very competent Empress indeed, so it all worked out).
The Eastern Roman Empire in popular culture:
- Byzantium is an essential faction in European medieval strategy games, like Age of Empires II, Crusader Kings and Medieval: Total War and its sequel. In some Alternate History-capable ones, it's possible to have the Empire survive well into the 20th Century.
- Interestingly on release, Europa Universalis III began the day after the empire fell in 1453. Then the expansions pushed this start date back to 1399 and the Empire became a playable minor faction. One which was rather popular and had lots of nation specific missions.
- Similarly, history-based 4X and other Turn-Based Strategy games may have the Byzantines as a playable faction, as well. Civilization added the Byzantines in its third and fourth incarnations in their second expansion packs (Conquests and Beyond the Sword, respectively) under Theodora and Justinian, respectively. The Byzantines under Theodora were added to Civilization V with the first expansion pack, Gods & Kings. Bear in mind that the Civilization games also have Greece and Rome as playable civilizations—but Greece is inevitably led by Alexander, and Rome is equally inevitably led by either Julius Caesar (I-III), Augustus (V) or both (IV). Whether this simply reflects Western historiography or (just as likely) an admission that the Byzantines are at once important but also clearly distinct from both Classical Greece and Rome is not an issue we well get into.
- Civilization V also includes the Ottoman Empire (under Suleiman), with Istanbul as its capital, thus making it possible for Istanbul and Constantinople to exist simultaneously as separate cities.
- They appear as the Eastern Roman Empire faction in Total War: Attila - unlike the previously-mentioned European medieval strategy games, the time period is around the Migration Period with its brother the Western Roman Empire still currently intact (though unless the WRE is being successfully played by the player, odds are they won't be for long). The Last Roman DLC additionally depicts them as an unplayable separate faction during the military campaigns of Flavius Belisarius (whose own faction is the Roman Expedition) after he suppressed the Nika riots, mostly just settling territory in the wake of Belisarius handing his conquests to it.
- Has a Fantasy Counterpart Culture in Sarantium in Guy Gavriel Kay's The Sarantine Mosaic.
- I Am Skantarios: A Warrior Prince takes Byzantium from Vestigial Empire and right back into The Empire again... and then politics happen.
- The Belisarius Series features the Empire as the heroes of the series, fighting against the Big Bad's armies from the Malwa Empire.
- In Axis Powers Hetalia, it's implied that Ancient Greece eventually became Byzantium, which takes then-Ottoman Turkey's role in ending the Empire a darker turn. This also could explain why her son Modern Greece bears a grudge against Turkey. Aside of being his prisoner after the fall of the empire itself.
- In the Second Apocalypse series, the Nansur Empire is the Vestigial Empire of ancient Cenei, is ruled by a Deadly Decadent Court, lost control of its religion's holy city to heathen desert peoples and considers itself more cultured than the other Inrithi nations.
- Faux-Byzantine stragglers attempt to retake Constantinople from the Ottomans in Assassin's Creed: Revelations. They ally with rogue Turkmen and their true leader is in fact an Ottoman Prince.
- Harry Turtledove studied Byzantine history at university, and as well as writing several stories (fantastic and mundane) set in the real thing, his Videssos fantasy series is based on a Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of the Empire and its neighbours.
- The Kingdom of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings has some resemblances to the Byzantine Empire, being The Remnant of a once-great empire now in decline, and may have been partly inspired by it.
- In Up the Line, by Robert Silverberg, the protagonist and other major characters are Time Couriers who specialize in giving tours of the Byzantine Empire throughout its history. Most of the plot occurs in or near Byzantium, and several people native to that time play key plot roles. This also allows Silverberg to show his knowledge of the history of the Empire.
- Count Belisarius, a 1938 novel by Robert Graves of I, Claudius fame.
- Blood Feud by Rosemary Sutcliff, from the perspective of a Viking mercenary fighting for Basil II.
- The Tevinter Imperium in the Dragon Age series is the Byzantine Empire if it was ruled by mages. The remnants of an once powerful dynasty now a shadow of its former self, abandoned its pagan ways to embrace the Christianity equivalent of the setting, only to break away from other nations to worship in their own ways and causing tension among them (mirroring the West-East Schism). They are also at war with the Qunari, who are partially analogous with Muslim states that the Byzantines have fought against and just like them, it has been said they have been locked in such Forever War that the Tevinters are the main bulwark against the invasion on Thedas.