Follow TV Tropes


Useful Notes / Byzantine Empire

Go To
"The whole city [of Constantinople] is full of [arguments about Theology], the squares, the market places, the cross-roads, the alleyways; old-clothes men, money changers, food sellers: they are all busy arguing. If you ask someone to give you change, he philosophizes about the Begotten and the Unbegotten; if you inquire about the price of a loaf, you are told by way of reply that the Father is greater and the Son inferior; if you ask 'Is my bath ready?' the attendant answers that the Son was made out of nothing."
St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Deity of the Son

To the people living there, this was the Roman Empire — or in Medieval Greek, Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων (Basileía Rhōmaíōn). In Western Europe it was often called the Empire or Kingdom of the Greeks. The short form of the name was simply Ῥωμανία (Rhōmanía — not to be confused with that Romania, although much of its territory was included in the empire at least some of the time); 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 Koine 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 Locked Away 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 western neighbors (their eastern neighbours, perversely, considered it entirely legitimate). 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 reasons/justifications for this are a little complicated, but it has a lot to do with opportunism, after the Eastern Empire had lost Rome in 754, the Iconoclasm Controversy had the then current Eastern regime take an opposing theological stance to the Papacy, and Empress Irene having taken charge meant that in the eyes of the Papacy, the seat of Roman Emperor was 'vacant'.

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.

Needless to say, a couple huge armies of unwashed fanatics and land-hungry nobles was not what Emperor Alexios I Komnenos was expecting (he'd been imagining something more like the traditional small forces of western mercenaries), but the historical consensus is that he adapted masterfully in a fashion future Emperors would mimic. That is, he extracted oaths of fealty from the nobles to return any previously imperial territory they conquered (while the Empire didn't attach the same importance to fealty, it was quite good at recognising and exploiting cultural quirks), then quickly ferried the Crusaders across to Asia Minor, gave them supplies, and pointed them in the right direction. After that, he followed behind with an army that neatly mopped up Asia Minor and a portion of the Northern Levant, and would probably have taken most of the Levant if the Count of Blois hadn't deserted and fed him false reports that the Crusaders had been destroyed. Even so, the Crusader States ended up as a convenient set of buffer states under varying degrees of Imperial control, with it being easier to control territory by proxy than directly, and Asia Minor stabilised, meaning it worked out.

This strategy worked for a time, but fatally backfired on them in the Fourth Crusade. 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, were 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 İstanbul, 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.

    The Emperors 

Theodosian Dynasty

Arcadius (395 - 408)

Emperor of the Eastern Empire. A weak ruler, he relied on his ministers and his second wife, who had a beef against the Patriarch John Chrysostom, to run the empire for him.

Theodosius II (408-450)

Only son of Arcadius. His long reign is highlighted with his proclamation of a law code named after him, which would be the basis of Justinian's Law Code, the construction of the city walls also named after him around Constantinople, which would be claimed as impregnable until 1453, theological disputes, wars with the emerging Huns, and the founding of what is considered as the first university in the world.

Marcian (450-457)

Reversed Theodosius' policies with the Huns, defeating them in their own homelands. Left the empire with a bursting treasury - quite impressive, considering how bad the financial issues were at the start of his reign.

Leonid dynasty

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.

Leo II (474)

Grandson and co-emperor of Leo, he died shortly after his grandfather. Holds the distinction of being the youngest emperor at the time of his death.

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.

Basiliscus (475 - 476)

Before being emperor, he was known as the guy who bungled the invasion of the Vandals in Africa. Overthrowing Zeno, he quickly proved that his abilities as an emperor matched those of his generalship. After his unpopular religious policies eroded what support he had, he was left in a cistern to starve.

Anastasius I (491 - 508)

This guy's reign was characterized by administrative reform. Not the most interesting emperor, but he left a stable government and a sizable budget surplus after his death.

Justinian dynasty

Justin (508-527)

Proclaimed emperor by the army. At 70 years old, he didn't really do much aside from his focus on religious matters. The real power lay with his nephew, Peter Sabbatius, who would become...

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.

Justin II (565 - 578)

Nephew of Justinian. Tried to emulate his uncle by ending tribute payments to its enemies. The end result was a reignited war with Persia and the loss of much of Italy to the Lombards.

Tiberius II (578-582)

Had to deal with wars with both the Persians and the Avars. Despite some successes, he died from eating bad food (or was poisoned - it's not really clear).

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.

The Usurper

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.

Heraclian dynasty

Heraclius (610-641)

Rumored to be the guy who changed the official language of the Empire to Greek, but he only just added the title of Basileus over Augustusnote . Married his niece, with reluctance from the Patriarch. When much of the empire was being overrun by Persian forces, he led a heroic, all-in 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). Had

  • Armor-Piercing Question: After deposing the hated Phocas who had driven the Empire to ruin with his backstabbing and tyranny, the two men reportedly had this exchange:
    Heraclius: Is this how you have ruled, wretch?
  • Feeling Their Age: By the time the Arabs arrived, he was just over 55 years (a very old age by that time), unable to repeat his direct vigor he shown against the Sassanids.
  • In Its Hour of Need: Subverted. When Constantinople was on the verge of being sieged by a Persian-Avar army, Heraclius sent his officer Bonus and a handful of troops to defend the city. The inexperience of siege warfare to the Avars, as well as neither of them having a navy even remotely as good as the Byzantine's, ultimately contributed to the siege being eventually lifted.
  • Warrior Prince: Was compared to THE Scipio Africanus for his campaigns.

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.

Heraklonas (641)

Co-emperor of Konstantinos III. Lasted slightly longer than his comrade, ultimately ending up mutilated and exiled (along with his mother - and first cousin - the aforementioned Martina).

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 at the age of thirty-three, leaving the imperial throne to his son, Justinian II.

Justinian II (685-695, 705-711)

Much like his namesake, sought to restore the former glory of the Roman Empire. He took part in wars against the Slavs of Macedonia and the Arabs, the latter of which led to him enacting brutal taxation against his people to finance it, and he also engaged in religious persecution against the Manicheans which pissed off more people. His despotic rule would lead to him being ousted in a palace coup, his nose being cut off, and being 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 two 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 with a new nose made of gold, 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 footstools before executing them. He then turned on his former allies, plunged the empire into more war, and was deposed again in 711 before being executed. Has the honor of being a Badass Of The Week.

Twenty Years' Anarchy

Leontios (695 - 698)

Overthrew Justinian II. His popularity vanished after he lost Africa (including Carthage) to the Arabs.

Tiberios III (698 - 705)

Overthrew Leontios. Restored the eastern frontier, but his brutal reign was overthrown by Justinian II.

Philippikos (711 - 713)

Overthrew Justinian II. His unpopular religious policies strained relations with the pope, and he wasn't much more successful militarily, with the Bulgars approaching the gates of Constantinople. Deposed by an army revolt

Anastasios II (713 - 715)

Despite reversing his predecessor's religious edicts and successes against the Arabs, he was deposed by the army that placed him in the first place.

Theodosios III (715 - 717)

Proclaimed by the army despite not even wanting the position in the first place simply because he was a popular tax collector. Did reasonably well for someone without administrative experience and did contribute with the preparation of the upcoming Arab siege of Constantinople. After a rebellion from Leo III, he took the advice of Patriarch Germanus and the Byzantine Senate, to abdicate and recognize Leo as emperor.
  • Reluctant Ruler: For a man who didn't want to be the emperor in the first place, he ironically became the best emperor of the twenty years anarchy.

Isaurian dynasty

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.

Konstantinos V (741 - 775)

Last emperor to rule over Rome. Despite being even more extreme than Leo in his iconoclasm, he has all the qualities of being a very good emperor. Died of a fever. He was referred to as "the Dung-Named"* by his subjects... if you believe Theophanes the Confessor, who was a complete simp for icons and hated iconoclasts. Had a tale where he fixed the aqueduct of Valens and slayed a dragon on his way to reconstruction.
  • The Ace: Was the first great emperor since Heraclius and the best of the Isaurian dynasty. Defeated both Arabs and Bulgarians, carried the economic and administrative reforms laid from his father and ensured a long-lasting stability after a whole century of disasters and setbacks.

Leo IV (775 - 780)

Strove to reconcile an empire divided over icons, only to begin persecuting courtiers caught venerating icons in the final year of his reign. Supposedly it was because icons had been discovered under the pillow of his wife, Irene of Athens. Led several raids against the Arabs. Died on campaign against the Bulgars.

Konstantinos VI (780 - 797)

Son of Leo, his ruled under the iron fist of his mother, the Church Councils which officially ended iconoclasm were held under his reign but at her direction. Despite being considered of age when he became 16, he had no power until he and his supporters forced his mother to declare him her co-ruler. This is because she tried to bribe the army's loyalty, underestimating both the sexism of 8th century soldiers and the loyalty of the grandson of Constantine V. After suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Bulgars at the Battle of Marcellae in 792, he gouged out the eyes of his uncle Nikephoros and order the tongues of four other uncles of his to be cut out to prevent a conspiracy against him. Later, he was on the receiving end by his mother, with his body never seen again.

Irene of Athens (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 ). Considering there was a theological issue of having a women as the head of the Orthodox church, since the emperor has the final say who the patriarch of Constantinople are, 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, albeit until Charlemagne's death.

Nikephorian dynasty

Nikephoros I (802-811)

The Dog of Rome. A competent but unpopular 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 civilization", 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.

Staurakios (811)

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.

Leo V (813 - 820)

Aside from problems with the Bulgars, his reign was relatively uneventful...until Mikael II tried to usurp him. Leo sentenced the pretender to death by having him tied to an ape and thrown into the furnaces that heated the imperial bath. Before that could happen, Mikhael's supporters (disguised as monks) snuck into the palace and attacked Leo while he was praying. The emperor defended himself for more than an hour with nothing more than a heavy metal cross before being killed.

Amorian dynasty

Mikhael II (820-829)

Despite losing Sicily and - more importantly - Crete to the Muslims, Mikhael II was a good administrator, providing much-needed stability to the empire.

Theophilos (829-842)

Campaigned vigorously against the Arabs - with mixed success. Known for the creation of the beacon system, which Tolkien would later copy from. Eventually, he died of disease.

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), the latter of which he requested Basil to marry so that he can get closer to her. When Basil confronted on Mikhael's drinking problems and other degeneracy, he proclaimed he can as easily make someone else, namely Basiliskianos, his heir... after making Basil his heir. It doesn't help that there are rumors going around that Leo VI isn't Basil's son, but Mikhael's. All these reasons is why Basil had both of them assassinated.

  • Easily Elected: His friend Photios went from being a monk to the Patriarch of Constantinople in four days. It's worth pointing out that he didn't jump straight to Patriarch, rather he actually climbed rank by rank. note 
  • Armor-Piercing Response: When the pope found out about this, he complained endlessly of the hasty appointed of his Byzantine colleague. Mikhael response was a harsh "Shut up" with the lines of "Latin is a barbaric language".note 
  • Armor-Piercing Question: After receiving Mikhael's harsh words, he merely responded "If that is so, then why do you call yourself 'Emperor of the Romans'". Mikhael never responded to it, because there wasn't really much he could do, lest he considers the Greeks as real Romans.

Macedonian dynasty

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.

Alexander (912-913)

Not particularly impressive as an emperor - described as lazy and lecherous, he mercifully died of illness.

Konstantinos VII (913-959)

Son of Leo VI and nephew of the Emperor Alexander, and son-in-law of Romanos I Lekapenos, who only really took the throne from 944 onwards. Having spent his youth and a large chunk of his adulthood first under regencies, then under the thumb of Romanos I - who made no secret about his desire to have his oldest son Christopher succeed him - Konstantinos kept his head down, but bolstered his claim by referring 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). This was a key part of his ascension to the throne - though the fact that he was perfectly willing to connive with his wife, Helena Lekapene, to dispose of his brothers-in-law after they disposed of their father helped. This came to be a key means of elevating an Emperor's claim to the throne.

Konstantinos was a scholar, an artist, an author, and an exceptionally able diplomat and politician. During his reign the Empire prospered in what has come to be known as the "Macedonian Renaissance". One of his better known works is De Administrando Imperio - a foreign policy handbook for his son which can be more or less summed up as 'Foreigners and How to Manipulate Them'. Because it was meant only for imperial eyes, it's remarkably open about the Manipulative Bastard nature of Byzantine foreign policy, recommending different tactics for the different peoples the Byzantine's dealt with (in the process providing detailed ethnographic, historical, and contemporary political information), 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 father-in-law, say it was done by idiots who were not born in the purple and thus didn't understand the dignity of the imperial office.).

Romanos I Lekapenos (920 - 944)

Seized the regency over Konstantnos VII by force. Successfully campaigned against the Bulgars and Arabs. Resigned after nearly a quarter-century of competent rule.

Romanos II (959-963)

After the death of his first wife, Bertha of Italy, with the two being betrothed as children, Romanos supposedly got his father, the emperor Konstantinos VII, to promise that he would be allowed to choose his own second wife. Romanos then 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)

After some early wobbles, including several rebellions, one of which in 988 forced him to marry off his sister, Anna Porphyrogenita, to Vladimir the Great, ruler of the Kievan Rus (Vikings who founded Russia), which resulted in a Christianised Rus, a stable Empire, and the foundation of the Varangian Guard. After this, he demonstrated his grandfather's diplomatic and political abilities, combined with a whole new level of ruthlessness, leading to the conquest of Bulgaria which earned him his fearsome moniker - one story had him allegedly blinding 99 out of every 100 Bulgar captives after a major battle, which supposedly led the Bulgar king to die of shock. A hyper-competent general and administrator, he expanded the Empire to its greatest extent since the Arab invasions, making it 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 put 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 - or at least ensured that his nieces did. Died of an illness while preparing to reconquer Sicily.

Konstantinos VIII (1025-1028)

Brother, supposed co-Emperor (in practice, his brother ruled alone) 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.

Romanos III (1028-1034)

Sought to emulate Marcus Aurelius and Trajan...only to fail at both. Not one of his initiatives were successful. Possibly murdered.

Zoe (1028-1050)

Daughter of Konstantinos VIII and sister of the Empress Theodora. After a marriage alliance with Otto III of Germany, the Holy Roman Emperor fell through due to his untimely death, 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.

Mikhael IV the Paphlagonian (1034-1041)

Second co-emperor to Zoe. A minor official at the Byzantine court, he rose to power after becoming Zoe's publically flaunted paramour. Despite some successes, his efforts to avoid Romanos' fate were mixed; he DID avoid murder, but he ended up died of natural causes.

Mikhael V Kalaphates (1041-1042)

Zoe's final co-emperor. Banished Zoe, but caused a popular revolt that swept him from power. His former co-emperor was reinstated.

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.

Theodora (1042-1056)

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.

Doukid dynasty

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 (1068–1071)

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.

One-Steve Limit: Averted, as there were a lot of "Nikephoros" vying for or is related to the crown. First Nikephoros Botaneiantes overthrew Mikhael VII alongside his minister Nikephoros, nicknamed Nikephoritzes. Then Nikephoros Bryennios revolted in the Balkans, initially to oppose Mikhael VII. While the two Nikephori squared off in Thrace, the doux of Dyrracheum, Nikephoros Basiliakes also revolted. Emperor Nikephoros successfully dealt with the Balkan revolts of Nikephoros and Nikephoros, but was completely blindsided when Nikephoros Melissenos proclaimed himself the emperor in Anatolia. To secure the succession, he appointed his relative, Nikephoros Synadenos, as heir.

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,note  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 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 when his eldest brother Alexios the Younger died was made heir over his surviving elder brother Isaac. 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.

Angelid dynasty

Isaakios II Angelos (1185-1195, 1203-1204)

A maternal-line descendant of Alexios I and 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.

An interesting bit of royal trivia: His daughter Irene Angelina married Frederick Barbarossa's son Philip, Duke of Swabia; through their children, he is the ancestor of every single European monarch now reigning.note 

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.

Non-dynast - the last throw of the dice.

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".

In exile - the Laskarid dynasty

Theodoros I Laskaris(1205-1221)

After the Fourth Crusade, Theodore organized resistance against the "Latin Empire" in Nicaea. While other Greek states existed (most notably Trebizond under the Komnenids), this was the splinter state to retake Constantinople.

Ioannes III Doukas Vatatzes (1221-1254)

Thanks to the Mongol invasion that crippled the Seljuks, Theodore's son-in-law (and successor) was able to focus on the Latin Empire. With that in mind, he recovered most of Thrace and Macedonia from the Latins.

Theodoros II Laskaris (1254-1258)

This short-lived ruler reformed the military, but died of illness.

Ioannes IV Laskaris (1258-1261)

A child emperor, Ioannes only lasted three years before being killed by his regent and co-emperor, Mikhael.

Palaiologan dynasty

Mikhael VIII Palaiologos (1259–1282)

A great-grandson of Emperor Alexios III on his mother's side, the charismatic and talented go-getter 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 II Palaiologos (1282-1328)

Tried hard to solve internal problems left unattended by his father. In the process, he greatly reduced the military and disbanded the navy that Mikhail had built up. Additionally, he became popular for cutting taxes. However, all of this meant that the empire's military and financial strength were completely sapped.

Mikhael IX Palaiologos (1294-1320)

Co-ruler with Andronikos. Died of shock upon hearing of his son Manuel's death (see below).

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. though he is now regarded as the last chance the empire had to recover as his military campaigns in the Balkans were quite successful. unfortunately, he died from what was ,probably, malaria and left an infant son on the throne.

Ioannes V Palaiologos (1341-1391)

Son of Andronikos III By now, Byzantium had been reduced to vassalage under the Ottomans. Ioannes had to deal with innumerable civil wars and usurpations. Ultimately, he held on to power thanks to his Turkish "allies".

Ioannes VI Kantakouzenos (1347-1354)

Proclaimed emperor by the army, named co-ruler after a civil war. Deposed after another civil war.

Andronikos IV Palaiologos (1376-1379)

Briefly overthrew his father Ioannes V. Deposed in 1379, reinstated as co-emperor in 1381. Rebelled AGAIN in 1385, and was killed for his actions.

Ioannes VII Palaiologos (1390)

Like Andronikos, he overthrew Ioannes V...only to be deposed and sent into exile.

Manuel II Palaiologos (1391-1425)

One of the last bright spots for Byzantium. After refusing to pay tribute to the Ottomans, Bayezid (the Turkish sultan) settled down for a siege of Constantinople. Manuel was saved by a Western crusade. Said crusade was crushed by Bayezid, who returned his attention to Constantinople. In desperation, Manuel toured Europe in hope of securing aid. While he was unsuccessful, he was - ironically enough - saved by the invasion of another Muslim conqueror (Timur). With the Ottomans occupied,he gained land from the remnants of the Latins in Greece (constructing a six-mile wall in the Peloponnese). After a bungled intervention in Turkish affairs left him as a vassal once more. Back to square one, so to speak.

Ioannes VIII Palaiologos (1425-1448)

The far less successful son of Manuel II. His only accomplishment was keeping Byzantium alive. By now, however, the "Empire" (if one could even call such a reduced entity that), barely existed outside of Constantinople. Thus setting the stage for the final chapter of imperial history.

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.

Epilogue - Dying Embers

The Fall of Constantinople isn't quite the end of the story. Even with the loss of their main city, there was still a possibility that the surviving Byzantines could rally around Konstantinos XI's brothers(currently ruling southern Greece as the "Despotate of the Morea"). Additionally, the descendents of Alexios I still ruled Trebizond on the northeast coast of modern-day Turkey.

However, both of these proved to be false hopes. Trebizond was too weak, too remote to even consider a serious campaign, let alone capture Constantinople. Meanwhile, the incompetent Demetrios and Thomas Palaiologos were too busy squabbling over their petty kingdom to be a serious threat to the Ottomans. Ultimately, the Morea was conquered in 1460, and Trebizond in 1461, thus snuffing out the last remnants of the Byzantine Empire - and, by extension, the Roman Empire.

The Eastern Roman Empire in popular culture:

Anime & Manga
  • Anna Comnena is a comedic four-panel manga by Futaba Sato about the titular princess and historian of the Byzantine Empire.



  • The Belisarius Series features the Empire as the heroes of the series. But instead of trying to retake the western empire as in history, Belisarius finds himself campaigning in India to counter a time-traveling Big Bad trying to alter humanity's evolution by taking control of the brutal Malwa Empire.
  • Blood Feud by Rosemary Sutcliff, from the perspective of a Viking mercenary fighting for Basil II.
  • Count Belisarius, a 1938 novel by Robert Graves of I, Claudius fame.
  • Lord Darcy: The Byzantine Empire (referred to as Roumelia) still stands in the era of the books. A naval treaty between the Angevin Empire and Roumelia is a key element of two of the stories, "The Sixteen Keys" and "The Napoli Express".
  • The Kingdom of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings has some resemblance to the Byzantine Empire, being The Remnant of a once-great empire now in decline which stands between an enemy horde and the rest of the world, and Tolkien acknowledged that it was partly inspired by it (though he preferred the Ancient Egypt comparison).
  • Has a Fantasy Counterpart Culture in Sarantium in Guy Gavriel Kay's The Sarantine Mosaic.
  • In the Second Apocalypse series, the Nansur Empire is the Vestigial Empire of ancient Cenei, is ruled by a Decadent Court, lost control of its religion's holy city to heathen desert peoples and considers itself more cultured than the other Inrithi nations.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Video Games

  • The Byzantines are playable in Age of Empires II as a well-rounded civilization with bonuses to their Fire Ships and access to the superheavy Cataphract cavalry unit, which is more vulnerable to archer fire but quite resistant to Anti-Cavalry units like spearmen or camels.
  • 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.
  • Civilization featured the Byzantines as a distinct playable since III, with Justinian I, Theodora, and Basil II as leaders depending on iteration. They consistently get unique heavy cavalry cataphract and heavy naval ship dromon units as nods to their most distinctive military aspects. Interestingly, the Civ games have also always featured Rome and Greece as playable factions, making the Byzantines distinct from both their political and cultural forebearers. And if the Ottomans are in the same round of the game, it's quite possible to have Istanbul and Constantinople to both be on the map as separate cities, for bonus weirdness—as can Byzantium (or Byzantion) in certain incarnations (e.g. Civ III, which gave Byzantium to the Romans in the base game, Istanbul to the Ottomans in the first expansion, and Constantinople to the Byzantines in the second expansion).
    • In Civ V their gimmick was that they got to pick an extra benefit when founding a religion, allowing them to better customize it to suit their playstyle.
    • Civ VI initially featured Basil II as leader, with an emphasis on their ability to conquer (Basil was known as 'the Bulgar-slayer', with good reason) and ruthless spreading of both their borders and religion. A later DLC added Theodora as an alternative leader, with cultural bonuses to Holy Sites instead of the military bonus to encourage a more refined approach to domination by pen rather than sword.
  • Conqueror's Blade: Season V: Legacy of Fire is based on the history and fall of the Byzantine Empire, with the in-game city of Reginopolis standing in for the real-life Constantinople.
  • In Crusader Kings the Byzantines are a major power for the earlier starting dates, though also prone to revolts and civil war due to all the scheming in the capital. The Legacy of Rome expansion for CK II focused on the Byzantines, and introduced event chains that allow the player to mend the Great Schism by force, and even restore the Roman Empire. There were some technical problems, though - Greek characters were given the option to blind or castrate prisoners, which caused severe lag as the game was constantly making "Can I Castrate?" checks between Greek characters until that issue was patched.
  • The Fourth Hearts of Iron game has the Byzantine Empire as a formable nation for Greece, although how Greece forms it depends on what DLC the player is using - if the player is using Waking the Tiger, they need to conquer Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania and Turkey; if the player is using Battle for the Bosphorous, on the other hand, it's formed in a different way that only requires Turkeynote . Regardless of what DLC the player uses, there are decisions that let Greece core the rest of the empirenote . In arguably an even more outlandish possibility, it's possible for Adolf Hitler to wind up as as an emperor (albeit, wearing a Paper-Thin Disguise), provided that he was overthrown in Germany.
  • Total War games:
    • In Medieval: Total War and its sequel, the Byzantines are a playable faction with a very strong capital, lucrative trade routes, and a formidable early-game military. But their endgame units are lacking compared to their rivals, and they start out surrounded by the Rising Empires of Venice, Hungary, Russia and the Turks.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Interestingly, on release Europa Universalis III began the day after the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453. Then the expansions pushed this start date back to 1399 and the Byzantines became a playable minor faction, one which was rather popular and had lots of nation specific missions.
    • Europa Univeralis IV in the meanwhile moves the timeline to 1444 with the disastrous consequences of the Battle of Varna leaving Constantinople with a dearth of strong allies with which to resist the Ottomans, but they remain a popular Self-Imposed Challenge for players.
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider: A thousand years before the start of the story, a "Deathless Prophet" began preaching in Constantinople, but he and his followers were hounded by the Order of Trinity both for the Prophet's claim to be immortal as well as heretical statements. They eventually founded the city of Kitezh deep in Siberia, whose ruins, artwork, clothing, and artifacts make it feel very much like a transplanted Byzantine city despite being located well outside the actual boundaries of the Byzantine Empire.

Web Original

Alternative Title(s): The Byzantine Empire, Eastern Roman Empire