The Bizantine Emperors

May 2012
847
Puerto Rico
I've been reading up on the Byzantine Empire lately, and have learned a lot about them. I wanted to get a little into the emperors: how they shaped Byzantium, which leaders had the last word in their courts, and what long-term legacy they might have left in their wake.

Due to the fact that Byzantine history greatly intertwines with West Roman history (and even though I personally consider Arcadius to be the first true Byzantine Emperor) I believe it is appropriate to start the timeline with Diocletian's reign and end it with the fall of Constantine IX. Hopefully I can get some input for all you Byzantium experts out there. :cool:

P.S.: I happened to forget that Byzantium is spelled with a "y", and I apologize for that.
 

Pacific_Victory

Ad Honorem
Oct 2011
7,654
MARE PACIFICVM
I've been reading up on the Byzantine Empire lately, and have learned a lot about them. I wanted to get a little into the emperors: how they shaped Byzantium, which leaders had the last word in their courts, and what long-term legacy they might have left in their wake.

Due to the fact that Byzantine history greatly intertwines with West Roman history (and even though I personally consider Arcadius to be the first true Byzantine Emperor) I believe it is appropriate to start the timeline with Diocletian's reign and end it with the fall of Constantine IX. Hopefully I can get some input for all you Byzantium experts out there. :cool:

P.S.: I happened to forget that Byzantium is spelled with a "y", and I apologize for that.
I'm guessing Spanish is your first language based on your location and that's why you are spelling Bizantine with an I (Imperio Bizantino en Español) but in English it is spelled with a y (Byzantine).

Anyway, great topic! The only one I have any significant knowledge about is Justinian, but I will let Kiriliax come by and answer your questions. He is are resident Byzantist around here. :)
 
Apr 2012
88
Oregon
Justinian I (r. 527-565) reconquered many western provinces, but these were quickly lost to the Lombards and other invading forces.
Some obvious facts:
  • He built the St. Sophia, which would stay the largest Christian cathedral for nearly a thousand years
  • His wife was sometimes more enthusiastic than him; she helped stop the Nika revolt, among other things
  • Introduced a new law system that would serve as the basis for many future emperors
Some not so obvious facts:
  • Contemporary critics say he and Theodora were insatiable for wealth, although since the treasury was being drained pretty much all the time, we shouldn't blame them
  • He actually could retaken the whole Iberian peninsula if the plague hadn't prevented him in 558
  • His overexpansion would prove dangerous to the following emperors (actually, this one is pretty obvious)

Basil II (r. 976-1025) subdued the hostile Bulgarians and expanded the empire's borders on both left and right. During his reign, Armenia, Bulgaria, Dalmatia, Serbia, Macedonia and Croatia were successfully reconquered.
He crushed the power of the big landowners who were eating up land that was either imperial property or part of the local communes; however, after his death they came back. This was a huge problem as the barons and landowners challenged the authority of the emperor at times. In my probably stupid opinion, the Seljuk invasion of Anatolia was largely caused by these guys- but I'm going off the point.
He brought the whole Balkan peninsula under control for the first time since the sixth century, managing to hold it for nearly two centuries. While the empire was smaller than in Justinian's day, it was significantly more powerful: a field army of Justinian's time would be roughly 7,000-10,000 men, while a field army of Basil would be around 30,000-40,000 men; although I may be wrong there.
 
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Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,954
Blachernai
  • His overexpansion would prove dangerous to the following emperors (actually, this one is pretty obvious)
I'm not as to whether we can class it as overexpansion. Africa was a long-desired reconquest ever since the Vandals had arrived. The fact that it fell so easily and so quickly, followed by a rapid capitulation of Sicily probably spurred Justinian on. They managed to retake a lot of prosperous land with very little effort thanks to internal issues in the Vandalic kingdom, and seeing that similar trouble was brewing in Italy probably gave Justinian expectations for another easy conquest. It even started out that way. Belisarios' rather small army managed to quickly take Naples and Rome, and after a year's siege in there they moved on to Ravenna and the Ostrogothic government collapsed. All said, the conquest of south and central Italy was pretty straightforward. What was not expected was the sudden resurgence of Gothic power by Totila. Combined with renewed war in the east, the state was severely strained. I seriously doubt anyone expected the war in Italy to last the two decades it did, and previous success suggested that breakthrough and total victory were probably imminent.



I also firmly believe the reconquest of the west saved the empire. It provided Herakleios, who would go on to conduct an impressive campaign during the darkest hours of the last war with Persia. Sicily and Africa contributed a great deal of the tax revenue that allowed for the Byzantines to fight hard against the initial expansion of Islam, and eventually helped grind it to a halt against Byzantium. It's also important to remember that Justinian's reconquests were not ephemeral. Parts of Italy remained Byzantine into the 11th century, and parts of Sicily into the 10th. Carthage did not fall for a century and a half after Justinian took it, which in human terms is still a very long time, especially for a particularly rich and productive region.

In my probably stupid opinion, the Seljuk invasion of Anatolia was largely caused by these guys- but I'm going off the point.
M. Whittow in 'How the East Was Lost: The Background to the Komnenian Reconquista' in ed. Mullett, Alexios I Komnenos: Papers I (Belfast, 1996) argued that the success of the Seljuk "invasion" was largely due to Basil's success against the rich landholders of Asia Minor. The landholders became powerful under the early and mid Macedonian dynasty as Byzantium expanded in the east, but they were also very hard to control from Constantinople. Basil's measures (which cannot have been totally effective, given the number of laws he had to create to prevent the large landholders from taking over the properties of soldiers) curbed their power and centred the Byzantine world back on Constantinople. This was the fatal mistake, although it probably did not seem like it at the time as this is what allowed the Byzantines to survive the Arab conquest. At Manzikert in 1071 we see Andronikos Doukas turn what was a fairly successful Byzantine campaign into a defeat by leading the rearguard off the field. He knew that his family was in place in Constantinople to take power, and how helpless Romanos was so far from the centre of power. During the civil wars that lasted until Alexios took over in 1081 the Byzantine interest is all on Constantinople; they do not seem to care that they are often handing over lands to the Turks in return for military service, since the primary goal was to fight over power in Byzantium, and that meant having a secure regime in Constantinople, Anatolia be damned.

While the empire was smaller than in Justinian's day, it was significantly more powerful: a field army of Justinian's time would be roughly 7,000-10,000 men, while a field army of Basil would be around 30,000-40,000 men; although I may be wrong there.
Justinianic field armies varied from 5000 to around 30,000. The bigger campaigns (such as Belisarios' invasion of Africa and Narses in Italy) seem to have had decent numbers, although determining the status of the soldiers who fought in some of the battles (where we have figures) is more problematic (I should know; I'm writing a thesis on it). Narses may have had some 25,000 at Busta Gallorum, but 6000 were Lombard allies and 4000 may have been Heruls, and we don't have a very good idea as to the legal status of Herul soldiers.
 
May 2012
847
Puerto Rico
I've been reading up on the Byzantine Empire lately, and have learned a lot about them. I wanted to get a little into the emperors: how they shaped Byzantium, which leaders had the last word in their courts, and what long-term legacy they might have left in their wake.

Due to the fact that Byzantine history greatly intertwines with West Roman history (and even though I personally consider Arcadius to be the first true Byzantine Emperor) I believe it is appropriate to start the timeline with Diocletian's reign and end it with the fall of Constantine IX. Hopefully I can get some input for all you Byzantium experts out there. :cool:

P.S.: I happened to forget that Byzantium is spelled with a "y", and I apologize for that.
I meant "hopefully I can get some input from all you Byzantium experts out there". And yes, English is my second language, Spanish being my first.
 

Pacific_Victory

Ad Honorem
Oct 2011
7,654
MARE PACIFICVM
I meant "hopefully I can get some input from all you Byzantium experts out there". And yes, English is my second language, Spanish being my first.
No need to apologize, I suspect your English es mejor que mi Español

By the way, welcome to Historum :)
 
May 2012
847
Puerto Rico
[/LIST]
I'm not as to whether we can class it as overexpansion. Africa was a long-desired reconquest ever since the Vandals had arrived. The fact that it fell so easily and so quickly, followed by a rapid capitulation of Sicily probably spurred Justinian on. They managed to retake a lot of prosperous land with very little effort thanks to internal issues in the Vandalic kingdom, and seeing that similar trouble was brewing in Italy probably gave Justinian expectations for another easy conquest. It even started out that way. Belisarios' rather small army managed to quickly take Naples and Rome, and after a year's siege in there they moved on to Ravenna and the Ostrogothic government collapsed. All said, the conquest of south and central Italy was pretty straightforward. What was not expected was the sudden resurgence of Gothic power by Totila. Combined with renewed war in the east, the state was severely strained. I seriously doubt anyone expected the war in Italy to last the two decades it did, and previous success suggested that breakthrough and total victory were probably imminent.



I also firmly believe the reconquest of the west saved the empire. It provided Herakleios, who would go on to conduct an impressive campaign during the darkest hours of the last war with Persia. Sicily and Africa contributed a great deal of the tax revenue that allowed for the Byzantines to fight hard against the initial expansion of Islam, and eventually helped grind it to a halt against Byzantium. It's also important to remember that Justinian's reconquests were not ephemeral. Parts of Italy remained Byzantine into the 11th century, and parts of Sicily into the 10th. Carthage did not fall for a century and a half after Justinian took it, which in human terms is still a very long time, especially for a particularly rich and productive region.

You make interesting points. In my humble view, Justinian I certainly asserted himself as the most powerful monarch of his day. From a military standpoint, he definitely could have expanded further into the Iberian Peninsula. No doubt the plague had a profound effect on his empire. Many of the territorial losses, however, were due to the 7th century Muslim invasion, as well as the Lombard campaigns. And once Charlemagne conquered most of northern Italy, Byzantium has no point in reaching into that region.

Heraclius definitely played a key role in defending the empire from the Sassanids, which was complimented by the work of Constans II. I'm currently getting started on the reign of Basil II, which should prove interesting.
 
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May 2012
847
Puerto Rico
No need to apologize, I suspect your English es mejor que mi Español

By the way, welcome to Historum :)
Thank you, though I think it's more of a "welcome back". I've been in Historum since last year, but I'd been absent for several months. It's good to be back though.