In 668 CE, the Byzantine Emperor Constans II was far away from his capital trying to deal with a threat that had been menacing his borders for his entire reign – advancing armies of Muslim warriors coming out of the deserts of Arabia. Constans had been thrust into power at the tender age of 11 in the year 641, a mere five years after Muslim armies started sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa. The young emperor, however, was not having much success in maintaining his empire and his subjects were beginning to tire of the challenges and hardships that the prolonged war caused. On September 14, Constans took what was supposed to be a nice relaxing bath before a long day helping to run the defense of his empire from the port city of Syracuse on Sicily. One of Constans’ disgruntled subjects was his own chancellor who snuck into the bathroom and picked up a large, heavy soap dish and smashed it over the head of his monarch. The blow knocked Constans out and caused him to sink below the waters in the tub. He would never rise again.
In September 1183, a Byzantine nobleman of the imperial family schemed his way to the throne by deposing (and perhaps killing) his young relative, Alexios II Komnenos. The schemer was the short-ruled Andronikos I Komnenos. Andornikos’ reign was marked by his distrust of Byzantine noble families and his attempts to limit their power – often by killing them. Andronikos also had many of the Western Latin Christians in Constantinople killed, seriously damaging the empire’s economy, but ridding himself of a “disloyal” population. During the summer of the second year of the emperor’s reign (1185), Byzantium faced invasion by crusading armies from Sicily looking to cross into the Holy Land. Andronikos was having none of it and came to blows with a Sicilian army. The emperor was forced to withdraw from his capital by the Western adversaries. Seizing the opportunity, Andronikos’ enemies at home declared the emperor deposed and placed Isaac Angelos on the throne. The deposed emperor attempted to make his escape, but was captured by Isaac’s men on September 12, 1185 and returned to the capital where Andronikos was sentenced to a terrible death in retribution for his own terrible actions.
Andronikos has his beard plucked and his head shaven. The wives of men he had killed or blinded were permitted to beat upon him and these women gouged out his eyes. His nose was filled with cow dung and his teeth were removed. He was marched through Constantinople and his erstwhile subjects pelted him with rocks. A well-known prostitute poured a bucket of boiling water of his head. Andronikos maintained his dignity despite these assaults and was eventually put out of his misery by being stabbed down his throat. Quite an end for a notably harsh ruler – certainly worthy of Game of Thrones!
Featured Image: “The Death of Andronikos I.” Public Domain.
Source: Stone, Andrew. “Andronicus I Comnenus(A.D. 1183-1185).” The Roman Emperors.
On August 1, 527, the a new Emperor and Empress came to power in the Byzantine Empire – Justinian I and Theodora. The pair would become known for their numerous achievements despite reigning during a tumultuous period of Byzantine history. During Justinian’s time on the throne, he oversaw the building of the great Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the codification of laws in the Corpus Juris Civilis – that would serve as a basis for many law codes throughout subsequent history. All of this may not sound very strange, but where our new imperial couple came from certainly is.
Justinian was born somewhere in the Western frontiers of the Byzantine Empire (records are unclear) to poor peasant parents. He made a name for himself as a solider and was able to come to power through the patronage of his predecessor, Justin, whom Justinian had served under in the military. As Justin’s right-hand man, Justinian met Theodora, a mainstay of Constantinople’s high society – bur for all the wrong reasons. She was a courtesan and, though her services were widely desired, was looked down upon by “polite society.” Justinian was immediately smitten with the lovely Theodora who, despite accusations of gold-digging, was likely equally attracted to the future emperor. Contradictory to the long odds, on August 1, 527, a peasant and his courtesan wife ruled the greatest power in the Western World and would go on to be among the greatest rulers of its long history.
For all the great details, check out the History of Byzantium podcast!
Featured Image: “Justinian I.” By Petar Milošević – Basilica of Saint Vitalis, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Image 1: “Theodora.” By Meister von San Vitale in Ravenna – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain.
May 29, 1453 is one of the most significant dates in world history. On this date, 563 years ago, the greatest city of Christendom, Constantinople, fell to Ottoman armies. This event marked the end of the great Byzantine Empire, heir to Rome. To learn more about this momentous event (and its ties to popular culture) check out this episode of the History Buffs Podcast in which I make a guest appearance: King’s Landing & Constantinople.
Featured Image: “Siege of Constantinople.” By Attributed to Philippe de Mazerolles – Bibliothèque nationale de France Manuscript Français 2691 folio CCXLVI v , Public Domain.
“Mehmed the Conqueror.” By Gentile Bellini – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain.
“Mehmed at the Siege of Constantinople.” By Fausto Zonaro – http://www.insecula.com/us/oeuvre/O0025021.html, Public Domain.
“Siege of Constantinople.” By © Sémhur / Wikimedia Commons, FAL.
On April 27, 395, the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, Arcadius married Aelia Eudoxia, the beautiful daughter of a Frankish general. Despite having a “civilized” Roman mother, Eudoxia’s father, Bauto, was known as little better than a barbarian and his daughter inherited some of these barbarous characteristics. Despite these traits, Arcadius married the young beauty and brought her to the capital, Constantinople.
As Empress Consort, Eudoxia grew into one of the most powerful women in the history of the Eastern Empire, especially in the realm of religion. She supported the faction of the Christian Church that adopted the Nicene Creed, but she soon came into conflict with the patriarch of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom. John eschewed the traditional expectations of the patriarch and refused to show obeisance to the elites of the city. His brand of Christianity played very well to the common people, but not so well to the halls of power.
As is so often the case, those closest to power came out on top. Eudoxia had much more of her husband’s ear than John ever could. In the end, she and her powerful friends succeeded in arranging to have the patriarch exiled from the city. Not too bad for a barbarian.
Featured Image: “John Chrysostom Confronts the Empress.” by Jean-Paul Laurens – , Public Domain.
Schraf, Philip. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Hendrickson Publishing, 1996.
Feed your GoT obsession with our discussion of King’s Landing, Constantinople, and some epic battles.