27 BC-1453 AD

Emperors of the Roman and the so-called
Byzantine Empires; Princes, Kings, and
Tsars of Numidia, Judaea, Bulgaria,
Serbia, Wallachia, & Moldavia;
and the Sulṭāns of Rūm

Die Römer waren ja die Starken und Vornehmen,
wie sie stärker und vornehmer bisher auf Erden nie dagewesen,
selbst niemals geträumt worden sind.

The Romans were indeed the strong and noble,
just as those stronger and nobler hitherto on earth never existed,
never even would have been dreamt.

Friedrich Nietzsche, "The Genealogy of Morals," Zur Genealogie der Moral
[1887, Philipp Reclam Verlag, Stuttgart, 1988, p.42]

Ἡ Ῥωμανία πῶς σοι φαίνεται;
Στήκει ὡς τὸ ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ἢ ἠλαττώθη;

How does Romania look to you?
Does it stand as from the beginning,
or has it diminished?

Doctrina Jacobi nuper baptizati, Διδασκαλία Ἰακώβου νεοβαπτίστου, 634 AD, A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602 [The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, p. 316, translation modified], Greek text, "Doctrina Jacobi Nuper Baptizati," Édition et traduction par Vincent Déroche, Travaux et Mémoires, 11 [Collège de France Centre de Recherche d'Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, De Boccard, Paris, 1991, p.167, see]

Nec minore cura Graeca studia secutus est, amorem praestantiamque linguae occasione omni professus. Cuidam barbaro Graece ac Latine disserenti: "Cum utroque," inquit, "sermone nostro sis paratus"...

He [Claudius] gave no less attention to Greek studies, taking every occasion to profess his regard for that language and its superiority. To a barbarian who held forth both in Greek and Latin he said: "Since you are prepared with both our languages"...

Suetonius, Volume II, translated by J.C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1914, 1997, pp.74-75, translation modified.

Οἱ κράκται· „πολλὰ, πολλὰ, πολλά·”
ὁ λαός· „πολλὰ ἔτη εἰς πολλά·”
οἱ κράκται· „πολλοὶ ὑμῖν χρόνοι...
αὐτοκράτορες Ῥωμαίων·”
ὁ λαός· „πολλοὶ ὑμῖν χρόνοι.”

The criers, "Many, many, many,"
The people: "Many years upon many."
The criers, "Many years to you...
Emperors of the Romans!"
The people: "Many years to you!"

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959 AD), "Acclamation by the People at the Coronation of an Emperor," De Ceremoniis, Book I, Chapter 38 [Constantine Porphyrogennetos, The Book of Ceremonies, translated by Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall, with the Greek edition of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, Bonn, 1829, Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Byzantina Australiensia 18, Canberra, 2012, Volume I, p.195, translation modified, cf. Monarchical Acclamations]

Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), "Sailing to Byzantium"

Rome casts a long shadow. I am writing in the Latin alphabet -- albeit as modified by the Carolingians (with the "w" originally introduced just to write English). I am using the Roman calendar, with its names of the months. I use Roman names for the planets in the sky, which also get applied to the days of the week -- although with Germanic variations. Sentences I write contain borrowed Latin words with some frequency [e.g. sententia, continēre, Latinus, frequentia, for example -- exempli gratia], even though the English language and its antecedents never existed within the Roman Empire -- unlike the many modern languages directly descended from Latin, or even Welsh or Basque. The English would actually enter Roman history, dramatically for the first time, in the 11th century.

The Nietzsche quote above was translated by Francis Golffing as, "The Romans were the strongest and most noble people who ever lived." This took some gratuitous liberties with the translation but more succinctly conveys the essential idea.

But this is just the problem. What Nietzsche admired was unapologetic power, conquest, and domination. This no longer seems so admirable, and the Empire founded by Julius Caesar and Augustus, as a form of government, does not look like an advance in the course of human progress.
Marcus Aurelius, the Piazza del Campidoglio, Capitoline Hill, Rome, 2019
Even to Machiavelli, the despotism of Caesar was a grave retrogression in comparison to the Roman Republic.

While a thoughtful Emperor, like Marcus Aurelius, expressed ideals adopted from Stoic cosmopolitanism, the unity and universality of Rome soon expressed itself as the unity and universality of a state religion, Christianity, whose intrinsic exclusivism and intolerance became characteristic of the Middle Ages -- keeping in mind that there was already a state religion, with whose polytheistic requirements Jews and Christians clashed, resulting in the destruction of Judaea, the diaspora of the Jews, and multiple persecutions of Christians.

Thus, a state religion is also no longer to be regarded as admirable, despite its presence in many countries, particularly Islāmic ones, even today, with the attendant persecution or even prohibition of religious minorities [note].

Nevertheless, the very success of Rome, both pagan and Christian, makes everyone, like it or not, her heirs, in countless matters great and small -- like monogamy, which has no Biblical basis; or shaving, which only seems to have been previously popular among the Egyptians [note].

Indeed, the Romans were rather more successful than is usually thought. The corpus of Roman law, let alone (all of) Greek literature, was not preserved at Rome, but at Constantinople:  the "City of Constantine," ἡ Κωνσταντίνου Πόλις or Κωνσταντινούπολις, Constantinopolis -- alternatively New Rome, ἡ νέα Ῥώμη, Nova Roma, or by its original name, Βυζάντιον, Byzantium. The city could more briefly be called ἡ Κωνσταντίνου, "the of-Constantine," ἡ Πόλις, "the City," or just ἡ Ῥώμη, "Rome." Indeed, that is where the codes of Roman Law were actually compiled, by the Emperors Theodosius II and Justinian, and where Greek literature assumed the form in which we now read it, on the manuscripts -- gifted, sold, stolen, or rescued -- now preserved in various European libraries.

Nevertheless, when in the 3rd century Rome ceased to be the administrative capital of the Empire, or the seat of any Emperors, historians and Classicists tend to lose track, lose interest, or both -- sometimes with evidence of annoyance, or hostility and falsehoods -- and the public, including many scholars of the humanities, seem entirely unaware of the subsequent status of Rome or the structure and continuation of Roman history. The unstated axiom that the City of Rome and its inhabitants always ruled and dominated the Roman Empire cannot be contradicted without the complacent being overtaken by confusion, disorientation, and anger. It cannot be. There is no way, in conventional understanding, to conceive of, let alone believe, a "Roman Empire" that is not centered on Rome and defined by its character. Without an Emperor passing on life and death at the Colosseum, it just isn't "Rome."

That Italy was governed from Ravenna, Ῥάβεννα, from 402 to 751, with no Emperors in the Colosseum at all, and no gladiators, is a fact that has simply dropped out of popular and even most academic consciousness. Even art historian Kenneth Clark, who visited Ravenna for his epic Civilisation [1969], was confused enough to think that the Court of Justinian was once based there. No, only the Exarch of Italy and the Archbishop of Ravenna. Nevertheless, Ravenna can turn up unexpectedly. At the beginning of Brideshead Revisited [1945], by Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), the narrator, Charles Ryder, visits Ravenna to study the art -- an episode that would have been nice to see in the 1981 BBC version -- but we don't see it. And after visiting there and seeing the gold background of Justinian's mosaics, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) began famously adding gold leaf to his paintings.

τὸ Ὄνομα τῆς Κωνσταντινουπολέως

That cities may have different names in different languages is something that for some reason has now become confusing to people. My favorite may be the Belgian city of Liège, for which there are at least seven different versions of its name in different languages, or sometimes even in the same language [note].

Constantinople is no different, where we have already seen the Greek, Latin, and English versions. It is then, for instance, Konstantinopel in German, Konštantínopol in Slovak, or Константинополь in Russian. Early on, we get an Arabic version, , Qusṭanṭīnīyah (قُسْطَنْطِينِيَّة), which later also gets used in Turkish -- until perhaps as late as 1926, when the Turkish post office stopped recognizing "Constantinople," or 1928, when the Latin alphabet was introduced -- and the city then became "Kostantiniyye" (Ḳosṭanṭīniyye to indicate Arabic spelling). In Syriac, we see ܩܾܘܣܛܰܢܛܺܝܢܽܘܦܳܘܠܻܝܣ, Qusṭanṭīnūpōlīs (with the Western vowels), which looks like a transcription of the Greek name, with affinity or influence, to or from, Arabic.

The local name of Constantinople through most of its history was in Greek; but the Emperor Constantine I himself, the City's eponym and founder, spoke Latin, and he bore a Latin name, Constantinus (see here for discussion of related names of emperors). At the Council of Nicaea, whose proceedings were in Greek, Constantine needed a translator, since he only spoke Latin.

Recent confusions are over abbreviated names of the City, in Greek, Σταμβούλ, and, again, in Arabic, , ʾIsṭānbūl (إِسْطَانْبُول), which also becomes "İstanbul" in Turkish, with all the stigmata of having been borrowed from Arabic. İstanbul became the official name of the City only in 1930. This muddle is discussed here and here.

We see Michael Psellus in the 11th Century contrasting "the ancient and lesser Rome, and the later, more powerful city" [Fourteen Byzantine Rulers, Penguin, 1966, p.177]. In Greek, the "ancient [or prior] and lesser" is πρώτη καὶ ἥττων; and the "later [and], more powerful" is μετ’ ἐκείνην καὶ κρείττων [Greek text, The History of Psellus, edited by Constantine Sathas, Methuen & Co., London, 1899, p.110].

It is striking that Psellus should have thought of Constantinople as "stronger" or "mightier," κρείττων, than the older Rome (see the use of this word in Plato's Republic and in the physics of John Philoponus). It certainly was in relation to the Rome of his day; but the implication of the statement is that Constantinople was stronger than Rome had ever been, which now seems odd -- the writ of Constantine ran from York (Eboracum) to Aswan (Συήνη), while that of Basil II only from Belgrade (Singidunum, Σιγγιδών, Serbian Београд) to Antioch (Ἀντιόχεια, , ʾAnṭākiyah -- أَنْطَاكِيَة -- Turkish Antakya). Yet the land area of the Empire of Basil II (c.1.25 million km2) was still greater than the combined area of modern France, Germany, and Italy (1,209,730 km2), which we could take as a proxy for the Empire of Charlemagne (c.1.20 million km2).

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (d.959) had previously referred to old Rome as ἡ μεγάλη Ῥώμη, "Great Rome" [De Administrando Imperio, Greek text edited by Gy. Moravcsik, Dumbarton Oaks Texts, 1967, 2008, p.86]. The tenth century Patria begins the description of Constantinople thus:

When 362 years had passed since the sole reign of the Caesar Augustus in the elder Rome [ἡ πρεσβυτέρα Ῥώμη], and her fortunes were already coming to an end, Constantine the son of Constantius took over the scepters [σκῆπτρα] and established the new Rome [ἡ νέα Ῥώμη], ordering that it should be equal [ἴση] in rank to the first. [Accounts of Medieval Constantinople, the Patria, translated by Albrecht Berger, Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard, 2013, pp.2-3]

Since νέα (néa) in Greek means "young" as much as "new," the contrast with the "elder," πρεσβυτέρα (presbytéra) Rome is appropriate (see discussion here).

ἡ Ῥώμη τε καὶ ἡ Ῥωμανία

So what most people would probably regard as an obscure and possibly unpleasant footnote to Mediaeval history, the "Byzantine Empire," was in fact still the Roman Empire, known to Western Europeans, "Latins" or "Franks" at the time, as Romania, already the proper name of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. This is not today part of general knowledge, as I've discovered, even among academics in the humanities.

In the Middle Ages, the Greeks usually used the Classical word for "Greeks," Ἕλληνες (Hellēnes), to mean the ancient pagan Greeks, as the word is used in the New Testament -- sometimes the Latin word for Greeks would be borrowed, as Γραικοί (Graikoi), if this was needed for contemporary reference, as for the language -- a practice already found in the chronicler Theophanes Confessor (c.750-818 AD) [The Chronicle of Theophanes, edited by Harry Turtledove, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982, p.141] and noteworthy in De Administrando Imperio [op.cit. p.228].

Greek had become the dominant literary language of the Roman Empire during the Second Sophistic in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This is little noted, except as merely a matter of oratory and rhetoric; but, of course, we see Marcus Aurelius keeping his diary in Greek, and the last pagan Emperor, Julian, wrote in nothing else.

Shakespeare tells us that Caesar's last words were Et tu, Brute? Good Latin (he had to know that "Brute" is the vocative of "Brutus"). However, Suetonius says that either Caesar said nothing, or he said καὶ σὺ τέκνον; "And you, child?" Long before Marcus Aurelius. Shakespeare may have been more confident in Latin than in Greek, or expected that of his audience.

While Marcus wrote his diary, his friend Aelius Aristides delivered, at Rome, an oration, Εἰς Ῥώμην, "To Rome" (143 AD). This was much admired, for its style and its sentiment, in later centuries. We can see it as the moment when the Greeks take up and celebrate their own Roman identity, but then Aelius does this in the Greek language.

The Emperor Justinian ruled:

Πᾶν δὲ μάθημα παρὰ τῶν νοσούντων τὴν τῶν ἀνοσίων Ἑλλήνων μανίαν διδάσκεσθαι κωλύομεν...

We moreover prohibit the teaching of any subject by those who suffer from the insanity of the unholy pagans... [The Codex of Justinian, A New Annotated Translation, with Parallel Latin and Greek Text, Volume I, Cambridge University Press, 2016, pp.244-245]

Here, where the translator says "unholy pagans," the Greek text says ἀνόσιοι Ἕλληνες, "unholy Greeks." The identity between pagans and Hellēnes cannot be stronger. Note that Socrates dicusses the pious and the "unholy" in the Euthyphro. This decree is what meant the closing of Plato's Academy in 529.

In 1354 Demetrius Cydones, Δημήτριος Κυδώνης (1324-1398), a convert to the Latin Church, even translated the Summa Contra Gentiles of St. Thomas Aquinas into Greek as the Θωμᾶ Ἀκινάτου Σοῦμμα κατὰ Ἑλλήνων, ἐξελληνισθεῖσα, Summa of Thomas Aquinas against the Hellenes, "made Greek" [note].

And in time, even the Greek language came to be called "Roman," i.e. Ῥωμαίικα ("Roman [things]") -- usage that persisted long after the Turkish conquest, even into the 20th Century -- in elevated language it was ἡ Ῥωμαϊκὴ γλῶσσα, "the Roman tongue."

Mediaeval Greek speakers, and other citizens of the Empire, whom we would now regard as different nationalities -- Armenians, Albanians, Franks, Vlachs, Slavs, ex-Muslims, etc. (who did, however, need to undergo sufficient naturalization, i.e. "Romanization" -- there are many arguments about who, even among Emperors, had Armenian backgrounds and who didn't) -- were themselves always Romans, Ῥωμαῖοι (Rhōmaîoi) -- Rome had always grown by the assimilation of people conquered, captured, or who defected. Greek speaking Jews, a distinct community in Romania, the Ottoman Empire, and Modern Greece (until the Germans got to them, killing 80%), and who might be said to have begun in Hellenistic Alexandria, were then the Ῥωμανιῶτες, Rhōmaniôtes.

The Empire was always ἡ Ῥωμαίων Ἀρχή (hē Rhōmaíōn Arkhḗ), ἡ Ῥωμαίων Βασιλεία (hē Rhōmaíōn Basileía), "the Empire of the Romans," the Οἰκουμένη (Oecuménē, "the inhabited world"), or even Ῥωμανία, Rhōmanía, as in Latin. I have often asked groups of college professors, for instance at academic conferences, if they knew the proper name of the Roman Empire. No one ever has known. "Romania" or Ῥωμανία is not part of general knowledge or public discourse because of long standing biases, among both Classicists and even Byzantinists, against the history and identity of the Late Antique and Mediaeval Roman Empire. See the Note on "Romania".

Confusions about the relation of a proper name to another description, as with the "French Republic" and "France," can be found with the Czech Republic -- Česká republika -- where a proper name was coined, "Czechia" -- Česko in Czech -- which many Czechs don't like, and also with the Ottoman Empire, whose identity as "Turkey" is sometimes questioned with foolish ideology.

Mediaeval Franks or Latins consistently called the Ῥωμαῖοι "Greeks," Graeci, or even Graeculi, "Little Greeks." The former was not always intended to be insulting -- certainly not when the Norsemen called the Empire Grikland -- but the latter was. Yet, German Emperors calling themselves "Romans" now seems no less than comical, as it did to Voltaire -- who of course famously said that the "Holy Roman Empire" was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire: Ce corps qui s'appelait et qui s'appelle encore le saint empire romain n'était en aucune manière ni saint, ni romain, ni empire [1756].

It was not called "Byzantium"

It is then natural that Classicists, to whom the Romans were the last people who proudly weren't Christians, would prefer the hostile modern neologism "Byzantine" for the continuing Empire, rather than pollute the memory of Augustus and Trajan with that of Justinian, Heraclius, or Basil II. Yet even Justinian wore no beard and was still speaking Latin -- and what Classicist will dare, and I dare them, to fault the others for speaking Greek? The very people, as it happens, thanks to whom we possess Classical Greek and its literature.

In the diagram, we see how to progressively expand our perspective. The conventional "Roman Empire" runs from Augustus to 476, after which come the "Dark Ages." However, Peter Brown and others then enlarge the picture with an appreciation of "Late Antiquity" and a "Later Roman Empire" that encompasses events down to the Arab Conquest, if not to the fall of the Omayyads in 750, followed by "Byzantium." Finally, we understand that both "Late Antiquity" and "Byzantium" are what the Romans themselves, the people whose preferences political correctness requires us to respect, had simply called "Romania," Ῥωμανία. See the corrected periodization in the next time line below.

Anthony Kaldellis has pointed out that Classicists, who may ignore the Greek literature of the Middle Ages, still written in the language of Plato, regardless of its merits or importance, are nevertheless themselves already unconscious "Byzantinists," since they are absolutely dependent on the form, content, and language of Classicism created by Mediaeval scholars (starting with the Second Sophistic). Some Mediaeval literature, like The Greek Anthology, may slip in anyway, without its origin being acknowledged.

Indeed, even Edward Gibbon, who actually called Mediaeval Romans (and he does frequently call them this) "a degenerate people" [The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Modern Library, p.299], nevertheless, when speaking of the replacement of Latin by Greek in the Law, Court, and Army, referred to "the Greek, whose intrinsic merit deserved indeed the preference" [p.295, boldface added]. So we find that Gibbon was a Hellenophile -- he just wanted pagan, not Christian, Greeks. And, of course, he regarded the spoken Greek of the Middle Ages (the "vulgar dialect of the city") as "gross and barbarous" [pp.298-299]. Perhaps he should have told his French friends that they were speaking "gross and barbarous" Latin.

Historians sometimes note the humiliation of the Greeks in being conquered by Rome, and sometimes the irony of the Romans admiring and adopting Greek thought, architecture, literature, etc. -- Horace said, Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit, "Captive Greece captured the wild victor." But I have never seen the stark truth put this way:  The Greeks then inherited the Roman Empire, without, however, ceasing to identify with it; and, what's more, under Roman law, in the unbroken jurisdiction of Roman Courts, they were Roman Citizens -- unlike, say, the illiterate Charlemagne.

Why does no one say that? They must be thinking that those Christian Greeks are no longer really Greeks, who by definition were pagans. Of course, Basil II and Alexius Comnenus would agree. They are no longer Hellēnes; they are Rhōmaîoi. But if, to historians, they are neither Greeks nor Romans, what can they be? Oh, let's make up a word. They are "Byzantines" -- according to Hieronymus Wolf (1516-1580) in 1557 -- and we all know how nasty that is. But the Romans, who were the last Classical people who were not Christians, were also, as it happens, the first who were. Classicists, whose discipline exists because of the scholars of Constantinople, as with Gibbon's "triumph of barbarism and religion" [ibid. p.865], seem to choke on this simple truth.

Urbs et Orbis

A Western outpost of Constantinople like Venice long provided a pipeline of influence from Romania, even in little things, like the fork (the one for eating -- forgotten after the "Fall of Rome" and unknown among the Franks), which arrived there in 1004 or 1005 with a Greek bride. The Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204 (at the connivance, sadly, of Venice), and then refugees from the fall of the City to the Ottomans in 1453, rather crudely, but effectively, brought much of the heritage of the Roman East back into the hitherto poorer Mediaeval civilization of the West.

Much remaining from the Classical world was lost, nevertheless, not with the Germanic invasions, the "Fall," and the Dark Ages, but in these later disasters. Sometimes only pitiful fragments were salvaged from them -- even as we see the Parthenon surviving intact until 1687, when it was blown apart by Turkish gunpowder. Thus, half of the literature described by the Patriarch Photius in his 9th century Βιβλιοθήκη, Bibliotheca is now lost. That included things like A History of Events After Alexander by the historian Arrian of Nicomedia, which is now only preserved in the summary of Photius, an invaluable source for the obscure wars of the Diadochi.

Rome began as a City, grew into an Empire, Romania, in which the City lost its identity, and which then shrank down, in the end, to another City, that meanwhile had preserved and protected the heritage of the Empire. People find this confusing. What great state changes its metropolis, μητρόπολις? Well, quite a few. China has had many capitals, depending on the dynasty. The greatest Egyptian capitals were Memphis and Thebes, but there were many others, like Tanis and Sais. What was unusual about Constantinople is that, for a thousand years, it was the redoubt of an entire civilization, all of Greece and Rome, except for surviving Latin literature in Francia, and in the end was reduced to something much like a city-state, as Rome had begun.

When we realize how much was preserved, in literature, art, and institutions, at Constantinople from the soi disant "Fall of Rome," it helps us realize how much Mediaeval Romania was, indeed, still the Roman Empire, just as they tell us.

Romanus, RomanRoma, Rome, Rom, Rím, Рим, Ῥώμη
the City, Urbs

Romanus, Romaeus, Romeus, Romeo, Romanius, Rímsky,
Римский, Roman
Romania, Ῥωμανία, Romanie, Romagna
the Empire, Orbis

At right, we see the nice differentiation in Greek between dedicated adjectives for the City of Rome, Ῥωμᾶνος, borrowed from Latin, and the Empire, Ῥωμαῖος, respectively. Ῥωμανός, differently accented, is reserved as a proper name, as we see with the Emperor Romanus I.

"Byzantine," Βυζαντινός or Βυζάντιος, in Mediaeval Greek, would simply mean an inhabitant or native of Byzantium, i.e. the City of Constantinople, or an adjective for the City. No one thought to call the whole Empire, the Οἰκουμένη, that.

The adjectives for "Roman" in the Slavic languages are almost irrecognizeable as such. We get Rímsky in Slovak, Rzymski in Polish, Římský in Czech, and then Римский in Russian. Little did I know, for years, that part of the surname of the composer Rimsky-Korsakov, Римский-Корсаков (1844-1908), simply meant "Roman."

In an age when the politically correct absurdly fall all over themselves to say "Beijing," for 北京, rather than "Peking" (Japanese Pekin, or Hok[u]kyō), or "Mumbai," मुंबई, rather than "Bombay," बम्बई, probably without being able to pronounce "Běijīng" (try Korean 북경, Buk-gyeong, or Vietnamese Bắc Kinh), or say what language "Mumbai" is from, it is extraordinary to find historians, even Byzantinists, who not only do not call the Mediaeval Roman Empire what it was, but who seem to have even forgotten that "Romania" was actually its name both in Latin and, as Ῥωμανία, in Greek.

Or, even worse, they have not forgotten, but they have actively chosen to suppress the name -- which is what we clearly see with Cyril Mango, whose respected status as a Byzantinist is in stark contrast to the contempt and dismissiveness we can discern in his attitude. The Romans perhaps would not have been surprised at the hostile defensiveness of jumped-up Franks, Φράγγοι. Most of us Franks -- although not an Enklinobarangus like me -- still resent the cultural superiority expressed by Anna Comnena:

φύσει γὰρ οὖσα δεσπότις τῶν ἄλλων ἐθνῶν ἡ βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων ἐχθρωδῶς διακείμενον ἔχει τὸ δοῦλον.

For, being by nature the mistress [δεσπότις] of the other nations [ἐθνῶν], the empire [βασιλεία] of the Romans, holds them, hostilely, in a state of slavery [δοῦλον].

Annae Comnenae, Alexias, Pars Prior, Prolegomena et Textus, 14.7.2, Diether R. Reinsch and Athanasios Kambylis [Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co, Berlin, 2001, p.450]. [note]

In a different vein, not so much of superiority as of reciprocated contempt, Liutprand of Cremona reported in 968 of the conquering Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas:

Ex Francis, quo nomine tam Latinos quam Teutones comprehendit, ludum habuit.

[He] made fun of the Franks, under which name he understood both the Latins and the Germans.

"Liudprandi Legatio," XXXIII, Die Werke Liudprands von Cremona, herausgeben von Joseph Becker [Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Hannover und Leipzig, 1915; Reprint, University of Michigan Libraries, 2012, pp.25-26].

While we see "Franks" encompassing Latins and Germans, this overlooks the Slavic nations in Latinate Europe, which included Croatia, Bohemia, Poland, and Slovakia (held within Hungary, as Croatia would be after 1097). Nicephorus had less reason to include them with the often hostile forces from France, Italy, and Germany. And he would also be aware that many Slavs would not belong to Francia at all but would, like Bulgaria, be members of the Oecumene of Orthodox Romania.

At the same time, Nicephorus also overlooks anyone from Scandinavia, who in his time were still dangerous pagans, but who had learned to respect the forces of Romania, which had inflicted harsh defeats on them, as the Franks never did, and who would soon convert to Christianity and begin supplying recruits to the remarkable and durable Varangian Guard. In the end, it was the Franks, the Latins and Germans, who inflicted the most damage on Romania, while the Varangians remained loyal.


This is getting to be a large text file (1296.3KB, 1.266MB), the largest text file at The Proceedings of the Friesian School), and with older internet connections it may take a long time to load, especially because of all the maps and genealogical charts, which are large graphic files -- although with most modern Internet connections, including on cell-phones, this is no problem. There is also an audio file (827.1K), if anyone wants music:  This is the "Dance of the Knights" from the ballet Romeo and Juliet by Sergei Prokofiev -- I think it evokes the ponderous, ominous, majestic, and tragic character of the Empire -- although it is unlikely Prokofiev knew that "Romeo" was Romaeus, a Ῥωμαῖος. But I don't sense a lot of romance in the account of Roman history.

Despite the overall size, Romania.htm has not been broken up, so as to preserve and emphasize the continuity of the history of Rome and Romania from Augustus all the way to Constantine XI. It is a long story -- Gibbon's version is now published in three large volumes [The Modern Library], and he only began with the Antonines.

Google describes this file as, "A thorough investigation into the Eastern Roman Empire." Somebody has not looked at it very carefully. We begin here with Augustus. But I have in fact never seen a book or treatment of the Roman Empire that addresses it as an institution with a continuous history from Augustus to Constantine XI. Classicist "Roman" historians lose interest in the 4th century and throw in the towel in the 5th, while "Byzantinists" generally begin with Constantine. This is a distortion due to modern prejudices, written by historians whom the Romans would have dismissed as barbarian Franks.

The Ῥωμαῖοι themselves possessed a strong sense of their identity and the continuity of their history, which is reflected in the popularity of continuous histories and chronicles written by Mediaeval historians in Constantinople. For instance, John Zonaras, writing in the 12th century, produced an Epitome, or abbreviated history, starting with the Creation, that was so popular that 79 partial or complete manuscripts survive today. Zonaras, drawing on sources that are now often lost, such as much of the history of Cassius Dio, divided his treatment in half, with Book II running from 106 BC down to his own day [cf. Warren Treadgold, "John Zonaras," The Middle Byzantine Historians, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp.388-399].

Some modern historians, e.g. Peter Brown or A.H.M. Jones, tie together "Roman" and "Byzantine" time, as something like a new discipline emerges around "Late Antiquity"; but a general sense of the continuity of the history has not caught on, and neither Brown nor Jones produced a continuous narrative of Rome and Romania. The treatment that is appropriate would be the four imaginary volumes shown above right, where Roman history continues down through the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Classicists need only buy the first volume and need not pretend to care about what follows. [note]


Philosophy of History

Home Page


Discussion of the period covered by this page, with sources on Roman and "Byzantine" history, upon which the actual tables and genealogies are based, may be found in "Decadence, Rome and Romania, the Emperors Who Weren't, and Other Reflections on Roman History." One Roman source not mentioned there is the handy Who Was Who In The Roman World, edited by Diana Bowder [1980, Washington Square Press, Pocket Books, 1984]. That was the first book I ever saw that organized Roman Emperors into logical dynastic or event centered groups. Another source I have recently enjoyed is Justinian's Flea by William Rosen [Viking, 2007], not the least because it cites this very webpage [note 2:36, p.331]. Otherwise, it is a fine book with a good appeciation of Late Antiquity, and with some details that I have already added here. Other sources are given here at the points where they are used. This page is continued and supplemented by the material in "Successors of Rome: Scotia", "Successors of Rome: Germania", "Successors of Rome: Francia", "Successors of Rome: The Periphery of Francia", "Successors of Rome: Russia", "The Ottoman Sulṭāns", and "Modern Romania". Related earlier history may be found at "Historical Background to Greek Philosophy" and "Hellenistic Monarchs", and the "Consuls of the Roman Republic".

Rome and Romania Index

Greek Transcription

On this page, Greek names of persons, peoples, and places, where there are not actual English equivalents, generally are not phonetically transliterated but are actually Latinized in both spelling and morphology. Thus, the name, Δούκας, that could be transliterated from Greek as "Doukas," is written "Ducas." The epithet of Basil II, "Bulgaroktonos," Βουλγαροκτόνος, "Bulgar Slayer," is rendered "Bulgaroctonus." And, of course, Basil is called "Basil" rather than "Basileios," from the original Βασίλειος -- just as Trajan is "Trajan" rather than Latin "Trajanus" or "Traianus." This practice is contrary to increasing usage among Byzantinists and Classicists and has become a matter of some minor controversy and irritation.

My determination is that, since this page, and the English language, uses the Latin alphabet, and since the Roman Empire originally used Latin as its universal language, never forgotten in Greek Romania (however annoying or hostile contemporary "Latins," i.e. Franks, might become in the Middle Ages), Latinate forms -- or familiar Anglicized ones -- are the practice here. Some say that this is a "detour" through Latin, but that is the historic and customary route by which Greek words came into English, which is a historic language of Latin using Francia.

Indeed, my suspicion is, and we'll see some evidence on this page, that the practice of cutting Latin out of the loop was begun by German scholars, who have a long history of trying to eliminate Latinate forms from their language. This was for purely nationalistic reasons -- to trace modern Germany, not from the Roman identity claimed by the Mediaeval German Emperors, but to the ancient tribal Germanic enemies of Rome. Thus, in 1875 Kaiser Wilhelm I dedicated a memorial, the Hermannsdenkmal, to the German chief, Arminius, who wiped out three Roman legions at the Teutoburger Wald in 9 AD, which led Augustus to withdraw from the Elbe to the Rhine. This was a nationalistic project whose ideological and political development produced some of the ugliest episodes of tyranny and war crimes in world history -- some suspicion is warranted [note].

Because of the problems with transcribing Greek, and because of the need for a reference with actual Greek words, Greek names and words have now been added extensively to this page, including every Emperor with a Greek name, beginning with Philip the Arab and Diocletian. Since standard Greek lexicons, like Liddell and Scott, do not have proper names of persons, and probably would not have them for the Mediaeval period anyway, there is a serious lacuna in reference sources for the history of Romania -- the Greek form of proper names can usually be found in the three volume Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium [edited by Alexander P. Kazhdan, Alice-Mary Talbot, Anthony Cutler, Timothey E. Gregory, and Nancy P. Ševčenko; Oxford, 1991], or now at Wikipedia. Those who insist on transcribing rather than Latinizing Greek words and names must face the problem that transcription systems, including more than those discussed by Warren Treadgold, are ambiguous, especially in the absence of accents and other diacritics, and usually do not enable the reader to reconstruct the Greek writing. This tells us that the practice is symbolic and not the serious use of the Latin alphabet to represent the Greek language.

Exceptions to Latinization would be, (1) for Greek words that simply have Latin translations. Thus, Greek Rhōmaīoi, Ῥωμαῖοι, "Romans," corresponds to Latin Romani -- not "Rhomaeoe" (although Romaei and Romei apparently occur). Latinization will occur, however, when the Greek word is part of a compound. For instance Tsar Kalojan of Bulgaria was called the "Roman Killer," Ῥωμαιοκτόνος, Rhōmaioktónos. This would Latinize as Rhomaeoctonus. And (2) when Greek words are transcribed, not primarily for logical "use" in English (or even Latin) sentences, i.e. to indicate their referents, but to phonetically render Greek words from examples of Greek itself, as I have in fact just used Rhōmaîoi, and Rhōmaioktónos. The reference with the latter is thus first of all to the words themselves, where we want to represent the Greek language (some of whose characteristics may be lost in Latin), rather to what the word (in Greek, Latin, or English) is used for.

Transcription involves compromises. As I have remarked, the practice elsewhere usually doesn't include accents, even through they are a proper part of Greek orthography -- and indeed were originated in order to write Greek. With accents, the use of the circûmflex to distinguish ēta from epsilon and ōmega from omicron (where the macron is not available in basic HTML) introduces an ambiguity; and where ēta or ōmega may otherwise take an ácute or gràve accent (which here have priority), another ambiguity is introduced. Many of these problems can be remedied with Unicode, which is slowly being introduced here, as the occasion presents itself. Issues of actual Greek pronunciation, Ancient and Modern, and spelling are examined elsewhere.

One virtue of Latin, indeed, is that there are standard and customary ways of doing it, leaving few alternatives or ambiguities for the Latinate forms of Greek words. And since these have already been used for centuries, there is a guide in usage also. Nevertheless, sometimes choices must be made. Thus, for Ἐγκλινοβάραγγος, an English Varangian, this might be Enklinobarangus or Enklinovarangus, despending on whether we attend more to the Greek spelling or to the Mediaeval (and Modern) pronunciation, respectively.

Note on Transliteration

Rome and Romania Index


The maps are originally those of Tony Belmonte, edited to eliminate references to "Byzantium" and with corrections and additions. Tony's historical atlas (with Tony) disappeared from the Web. It was painstakingly reassembled by Jack Lupic, but then his site has disappeared also. In 2023, Belmonte's maps have been reappearing on the Web, and one site says it is by Belmonte himself. However, the email address given there for "Tony Belmonte" only results in bounced emails. So it is unclear to me what is going on.

Corrections and additions to the maps here are based on The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History (Colin McEvedy, 1967), The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History (Colin McEvedy, 1961), The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History (Colin McEvedy, 1992), The Anchor Atlas of World History, Volume I (Hermann Kinder, Werner Hilgemann, Ernest A. Menze, and Harald and Ruth Bukor, 1974), and various prose histories. My graphics programs do not seem to be quite as sophisticated as Tony's, so maps I have modified may not look as professionally done as his originals. Other maps are not based on Tony's at all and may consequently look even less professional.

Rome and Romania Index

27 BC-284 AD, 310 years

Trajan was most conspicuous for his justice, for his bravery, and for the simplicity of his habits. He was strong in body, being in his forty-second year when he began to rule, so that in every enterprise he toiled almost as much as the others; and his mental powers were at their highest, so that he had neither the recklessness of youth nor the sluggishness of old age. He did not envy nor slay any one, but honored and exalted all good men without exception, and hence he neither feared nor hated any one of them. To slanders he paid very little heed and he was no slave of anger. He refrained equally from the money of others and from unjust murders. He expended vast sums on wars and vast sums on works of peace; and while making very many urgently needed repairs to roads and harbors and public buildings he drained no one's blood for any of these undertakings... For these deeds, now, he took more pleasure in being loved than in being honoured. His association with the people was marked by affability and his intercourse with the senate by dignity, so that he was loved by all and dreaded by none save the enemy.

Dio Cassius (c.150-235 AD), Roman History, Book LXVIII, Translated by Earnest Cary, Loeb Classical Library, Dio Cassius, VIII, Harvard U. Press, 1925, 2005, p.369-371.

ὅπερ γάρ τις ἔφη τῶν λογοποιῶν περὶ τῆς Ἀσίας, λέγων ὅσην ὁ ἥλιος πορούεται, ταύτης πάσης ἄρχειν ἄνδρα ἕνα -- οὐκ ἀληθῆ λέγων, εἰ δὴ πᾶσαν Λιβύην καὶ τὴν Εὐρώπην ἐξαίρετον ἐποιεῖτο τῶν ἡλίου δυσμῶν τε καὶ ἀνατολῶν -- τοῦτο νῦν ἐξενίκησεν ἀληθὲς εἶναι, τὴν ἴσην τε ἡλίου πορείαν εἶναι κτῆσιν ὑμετέραν καὶ τὸν ἥλιου διὰ τῆς ὑμετέρας πορεύεσθαι.

Some chronicler, speaking of Asia, asserted that one man ruled as much land as the sun passed, and his statement was not true because he placed all Africa and Europe outside the limits where the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. It has now however turned out to be true. Your possession is equal to what the sun can pass, and the sun passes over your land.

Aelius Aristides, Εἰς Ῥώμην, "To Rome," 143 AD, The Ruling Power: A Study of the Roman Empire in the Second Century After Christ Through the Roman Oration of Aelius Aristides, James H. Oliver, The American Philosophical Society, 1953, p.896

In the second century of the Christian era, the Empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilised portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valour. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury.... During a happy period (A.D. 98-180) of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines.

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I, Modern Library, p.1

Now what shall I say of this, that whereas so many have borne the name of Caesar, there have appeared among them so few good [paucos bonos] emperors? For the list of those who have worn the purple [purpuratorum] from Augustus to the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian is contained in the public records. Among them, however, the best were Augustus himself, Flavius Vespasian, Titus Flavius, Cocceius Nerva, the Deified Trajan, the Deified Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Antoninus, Severus the African, Alexander the son of Mamaea, the Deified Claudius, and the Deified Aurelian.

The Scriptores Historiae Augustae (c.150-235 AD), Historia Augusta, Volume III, Translated by David Magie, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1932, 1998, p.277-279.

The "First Empire" is what often would be considered the entire history of the "Roman Empire." It is definitely the end of the Ancient World. If "Rome" means paganism, bizarre Imperial sex crimes, and the Pax Romana, then this would indeed be it. A later Empire that is Christian, more somberly moralistic, and more beset with war, sounds like a different civilization, which it is, and isn't. That the earlier civilization didn't "fall" but merely became transformed is a truth that both academic and popular opinion still hasn't quite come to terms with. If the decadence of pagan religion and despotic emperors was going to be the cause of the "fall" of Rome, then it certainly should have fallen in the Crisis of the Third Century. That it didn't would seem almost like a disappointment to many. But the greatest of the 3rd century Emperors, like Aurelian, don't get popular books, movies, and BBC television epics made about them. They begin to pass into a kind of historical blind spot. The Pax Romana seems real enough in certain places, but there were not many reigns without some major military action. As long as these were remote from Rome, people would have thought of it as peace. Once Aurelian rebuilt the walls around Rome, things had obviously changed. Indeed, perhaps Rome did "fall" in the Third Century, if by the "Roman Empire" we mean a state ruled, controlled, and centered in the City of Rome. Somewhere between Decius and Diocletian, that was lost. The Emperors ceased to live at Rome, there was not much happening there that influenced events, and even the Army was mostly recruited elsewhere. The Empire decentered and turned inside out, something that popular discourse and even many historians have failed to either recognize or acknowledge.

Rome and Romania Index

A. "PRINCIPATE," 27 BC-235, 261 years


C. (Octavius) Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus

30 BC
27 BC-14 AD
defeat of Varus by Arminius, destruction of three legions, abandonment of Germany, 9 AD; Alexandrian Year, 23 BC
Tiberius I
Ti. Claudius Nero
C. (Julius) Caesar (Germanicus)
Claudius I
Ti. Claudius Drusus
Invasion of Britain, 43;
revolt of Boudicca, 61
(L. Domitius Ahenobarbus) Nero Claudius Drusus
Ser. Sulpicius Galba
M. Salvius Otho
A. Vitellius
The Roman Empire "officially" begins by tradition in 27 BC when Octavian receives the title "Augustus" -- which then becomes the name by which we know him. We might think that the Empire, Imperium, begins with Augustus becoming Emperor, Imperator, but that is not the case. Imperator simply means "commander," and this had long been in use with a specific meaning. An imperator was someone with a military command and imperium, which meant both military and civil authority in the area of his command. This made Julius Caesar essentially the dictator of
Gaul, once he had conquered it. That was dangerous, indeed fatal, for the Republic; but in those terms Julius Caesar began the creation of the Roman Empire already as an "emperor."

So, while we think of "Augustus" as the name of the first Emperor, it was simply a title, whose import was well remembered by subsequent Emperors. It accompanies the institutional changes that were effected or completed by Augustus. The institution thus created now gets called the "Principate," from Princeps, "Prince" (literally, "comes first"). The idea of the Principate is that the forms of the Republic are retained, and the Emperor superficially is simply still an official of the Republic.

Augustus was not a king. He did not even hold the Republican office of Dictator, as Julius Caesar had. But Augustus otherwise assembled offices and authority sufficient to explain the power that he had actually obtained by force. In principle, Rome is still SPQR, Senatus Populusque Romanus, "the Senate and the People of Rome." This institution continues for some centuries, and there never was a subsequent question that the Emperor might become a King, as had been widely feared, expected, or desired with Julius Caesar. In time, the Emperor came to be regarded as superior to any mere king, as the reach and authority of many Emperors was indeed great beyond precedent or (local) comparison.

Nabonassaran Chronology

While it seems natural and obvious to take Augustus as the successor to Julius Caesar and his new Imperial government as the successor to the Roman Republic, there was another way of looking at this. The astronomer Claudius Ptolemy (c.100-c.170 AD), who was concerned about the dating of astronomical observations, laid the foundation for all ancient chronology with the Canon of Kings, a list of rulers beginning with the Babylonian King Nabonassar in 747 BC. The Canon thus starts off with Babylonian Kings (and some Assyrians thrown in), jumps to Persian Kings in 538 BC, to Alexander in 332 BC, to the Ptolemies in Egypt in 305 BC, and finally to Augustus, at the death of Cleopatra, in 30 BC. It continues to the reign of Antoninus Pius.

These particular connections occur because (1) the Babylonians had the most advanced astronomy of their age, (2) Babylonian records continued seamlessly into the Persian and Hellenistic periods, (3) elements of this, including considerable data, had been translated into Greek, and (4) Ptolemy himself operated in Alexandria, where these translated Babylonian records were freely available, where Greek astronomy itself reached maturity, and where Ptolemy had at hand the simplest calendar of the Ancient World, the Egyptian 365 day year, which continued to be used in astronomy until the introduction of Julian Day Numbers.

So, we have the curious mixture of an astronomer whose name is in Latin and Greek, who lives in Egypt, and who uses the Era of a Babylonian King (Nabonassar) in conjunction with the Egyptian calendar. This all is striking for Ptolemy's willingness to use the best of all that was available to him -- though it may still surprise some, as we now know independently from Egyptian records, that the astronomy of the Egyptians themselves, except for (or perhaps because of) their year, had less to offer than the Babylonian.

Thus, Augustus may be seen as more than a Roman ruler, as, indeed, the successor to the universal equivalents of the eponymous archons (the Athenian officials used for purposes of dating) for all of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and European civilization. From Antoninus Pius, the Canon could easily be continued with Roman Emperors all the way to 1453, using a clue of the numbering given by the Venerable Bede, who has Maurice as the 54th Emperor. Even the presence of the Latin Emperors present no anomaly, since Assyrian Kings were interpolated with Babylonian Kings. The last ephemeral Western Emperors, so important for the mythology of the "Fall" of Rome, were, of course, simply ignored by Bede. The Canon can then obviously be continued from 1453 with the Ottomans, who make for a succession in Constantinople in an even more seamless fashion than Augustus takes over from Cleopatra -- the capital city doesn't even change.

The Canon of Kings, then, as a succession of Kings, will end in 1922, when no monarch conquers or replaces Meḥmed VI. It is a moment, indeed, in the aftermath of World War I, when the idea of monarchy alone as a legitimate form of government, without popular and parliamentary qualifications, pretty much ends -- although tyrants and dictators follow who were often worse than any monarch had ever been.

The abbreviations used in the full names of the Emperors can be found elsewhere with the discussion of the tria nomina. Emperors are commonly known by particular parts of their names, or by nicknames, e.g. Caligula, "little boot," or Caracalla, "little hood" -- both names given them as children in the army camps of their fathers (Germanicus and Septimius Severus, respectively).

The family of the Julio-Claudians seems like one of the most complicated in history. This chart eliminates many people in the family to focus on the descent and relation of the Emperors. Caligula and Nero are descendants of Augustus, through his daughter Julia (from his first marriage); but Claudius and Nero are also descendants of Mark Antony, who of course committed suicide, shortly before Cleopatra, rather than be captured after his defeat by Augustus.

The use of crowns to indicate the emperors is at this point anachronistic, but it is convenient. The crown for Christian Roman Emperors, which of course will not occur until Constantine, is shown with a nimbus, like deified earlier Emperors, because they are always portrayed with halos, like Saints, and are said to be the "Equal to the Apostles," ἰσαπόστολος, isapóstolos. Indeed, not just Christians Emperors, but Empresses and their children are shown with halos. This is not something that ones sees in Western Europe.

Augustus of Dendur

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City contains the Temple of Dendur, which was relocated from Egypt and opened on display in 1978. The temple was a gift from Egypt in thanks for all the help that was contributed to rescue the monuments that would be submerged in the lake growing behind the new Aswan High Dam. For instance, since the temples on Philae Island were already being flooded because of the previous Aswan Low Dam, they were all simply moved to a nearby, higher island.

The Temple of Dendur was built in the reign of Augustus, around 15 BC. The cartouches on the temple mostly just contain the hieroglyphs , "Pharaoh," which seems like a very perfunctory way of representing the Roman Emperor as King of Egypt. High up on the gate, however, and around on the side, I have noticed more complete names, only parts of which I have been able to read, including , glyphs that clearly spell out "Caesar."

We might have hoped that the problem of reading these names would be clarified by Kevin L. Johnson & Bill Petty, whose The Names of the Kings of Egypt, The Serekhs and Cartouches of Egypt's Pharaohs, along with Selected Queens [Museum Tours Press, Littleton, Colorado, 2011, 2012] contains the names in Egyptian of a number of Roman Emperors, including those of Augustus comparable to the ones on the Temple of Dendur. Augustus is thus [p.83]. These do not exactly match the versions on the temple, and so perhaps only add to the confusion. Johnson and Petty provide no phonetic transcription or discussion for any of their names.

For a long time it was not clear to me exactly what the first name was transcribing. Finally, a correspondent, Shawn Rasmussen, pointed out that it looks like Αὐτοκράτωρ, "Autocrat," which becomes the Greek translation of Latin Imperator. An anomaly is that we get a "d" instead of the initial "t."

This is the key to the glyphs on the temple. The first cartouche there, , keeps the intial "t" but then substitutes another "t" for the "k," also leaving out two of the "w's" that had stood for vowels. These anomalies were confusing enough to me to prevent recognition of the word. And I was expecting an actual name, not another title. Since the result is "Emperor Caesar," perhaps "Caesar" itself is seen as a proper name, which it was [note].

I note that there is an extra "s" at the end of "Caesar," (written as a "z," which only had that value in Old Egyptian), both at Dendur and in Johnson & Petty. This is something I cannot account for. I wonder if the Egyptian scribe here thought that Greek words should end in "s," as Καῖσαρ, in the nominative singular, does not. Some help in this respect is in a very old book, The Rosetta Stone in Hieroglyphics and Greek, by Samuel Sharpe [John Russel Smith, London, 1871].

Sharp includes an "Appendix of King's Names," including Roman Emperors. Sharp provides phonetic transcriptions, although not to modern standards, and some discussion of the names. His font for the glyphs is not good enough for all of them to be identifiable. "Caesar," , occurs a lot in the Roman names, and we see it always with the final "s," transcribed by Sharpe as "Cæsaros." However, in Greek, Καίσαρος is the genitive of the word, which doesn't really fit the context. If Sharpe is aware of that, he doesn't say so; but at least he has noticed the "s," where Johnson & Petty are no help.

The names in Sharp also feature , Σεβαστός, the Greek translation of Augustus, in a cartouche for Antoninus Pius. The "egg" glyph here, used phonetically, "sꜢ," can mean "son" but is often used as a determinative for females or goddesses. In the Middle Ages, Σεβαστός as a title may stand a rank below a proper "Augustus." In 1042, we see it bestowed on the memorable Maria Scleraena.

The "Caesar" cartouche on the Temple of Dendur adds a formula often seen in royal names: , which we find Alan Gardiner rendering as, "May he live eternally!" [Egyptian Grammar, §313, Oxford, 1927, 1964, p.239].

For the titles with each name, see here. The last carthouche that Johnson & Petty give is of Diocletian, by which time the Egyptians were converting to Christianity and hieroglyphics would be forgotten. Sharpe's last name is for Commodus, except for a cartouche for "Candace," the title, not a name, of the Queens of Kush.

So there was an effort here, as with the Ptolemies, to Egyptianize foreign rule, and a final era of overlap between Ancient Egypt and the later civilizations that, through Christianity and then ʾIslām, erase the ancient religion, culture, and then language of Egypt. What remains of all of those, with the Christian Copts, is under physical assault by Islamists in modern Egypt even as I write.

This map, for the year of the death of Augustus, is the last in the series prepared for the Hellenistic Age, the period that Augustus himself had terminated in 30 BC. Noteworthy are the surviving vassal kingdoms under Roman control:  Armenia, the Bosporan Kingdom, Numidia, Judaea, Cappadocia, Emesa, Nabataean Petra, Commagene, Iberia, Thrace, and Palmyra. Edessa, at this point a Parthian vassal, will soon pass under Roman control. Palmyra will briefly play a signifiant role in Roman history in the Third Century. Armenia will often find itself pulled between Rome and Parthia, then Rome and Sassanid Persia, and subsequently several other larger political conflicts right down to our own day.

The Principate is the period that fits everybody's main idea of the "Roman Empire." Caligula and Nero, and Robert Graves's version of Claudius, are objects of endless fascination, moralizing, guilty pleasure, and not-so-guilty pleasure. Whatever these emperors were actually like, this approach began with the Romans themselves, with Suetonius's list of Tiberius's sexual perversions, lovingly reproduced in Bob Guccione's silly movie Caligula (1979, 1991). Whether Tiberius was really guilty of anything of the sort is anyone's guess, but we don't hear much in the way of such accusations about subsequent Emperors, except for a select few, like Caracalla and Elagabalus.

Meanwhile, Augustus had secured the Rhine-Danube frontier, and Claudius conquered most of Britain. Augustus originally wanted an Elbe-Danube frontier, but one of his armies (of three legions) was caught in a catastrophic ambush and destroyed. The Romans gave up on the Elbe permanently. Only Charlemagne, by the conquest of Saxony, would secure what Augustus had wanted. He did not have an easy time of it either.

The shadow of the Republic persisted during this period, and someone like Claudius could still dream of restoring full Republican government. He actually didn't do anything about it; and the year 69 pretty much ended these dreams, since the first free-for-all scramble for the throne revealed that the army, and only the army, would determine who would be Emperor. Strangely enough, despite the occasional anarchy, this would be a source of strength for the Empire, since the state always did the best with successful soldiers at its head. Unsuccessful soldiers faced the most merciless reality check (whether killed by the enemy or by their own troops); but purely civilian Emperors, like Honorius, could endure one disaster after another without their rule necessarily being endangered.

The Roman Army under Augustus contained 28 Legions (Legio, Legiones), not counting the Praetorian Guard. At some 5500 men each, this gives a full strength Army of 154,000 men. However, this does not count the Auxilia, units like cavalry and others that consisted of those who are not Roman citizens (though they gained citizenship from service). The entire Army, therefore, was more like 300,000 men, less than half of what it would number in the Late Empire.

In his attempt to extend Roman power to the Elbe, Augustus lost three Legions at the battle of the Teutoburger Wald in 9 AD. Suetonius reports that for months (menses) Augustus might beat his head against a door and exclaim, Quintili Vare, legiones redde!. This is usually translated, "Varus, give me back my legions!" but the Latin simply means "Return the legions!" The numbers of the lost Legions were never used again (likewise with the Legions later disbanded for rebellion).

All the Legions were originally simply numbered. Once they begin acquiring epithets (cognomen, cognomina), like Legio X Fretensis, we start getting more than one Legion with the same number, but with different epithets, e.g. Legio III Gallica, Legio III Cyrenaica, Legio III Augusta pia fidelis, Legio III Italica concors, and Legio III Parthica. This is a little confusing.

The logic of the matter is that eventually the legions begin to be numbered in relation to their cognomen, not in the absolute count of the Army. Thus, Septimius Severus raised legions for his attack on the Parthians (195 AD), which quite logically are numbered Legio I Parthica, Legio II Parthica, & Legio III Parthica. Eventually there would also be Legio IV Parthica, Legio V Parthica, & Legio VI Parthica, but these were not raised by Severans. We find all the numbers used up to XXII (Legio XXII Primigenia pia fidelis), but then Trajan raised Legio XXX Ulpia Victrix. I suspect that he used "XXX" because 29 Legions already existed, despite the numbers used. If that was the reasoning, we do not see that happen again.

Legions of the Roman Army

The office of the Roman Consuls, and dating by them, continues under the Empire until Justinian. They can be examined on a popup page.

Gulussa & Mastanabal149-c.145
Adherbal & Hiempsal I118-116
War with Romans, 112-106
Hiempsal IIc.88-c.50
Juba Ic.50-46
Killed in Caesar's Civil War
Juba IIc.30 BC-c.22 AD
Raised at Rome
Ptolemyc.22 AD-40
Killed by Caligula; Numidia becomes Roman Province
No less that four foreign cultures have been planted into North Africa over the centuries. The Kingdom of Numidia was originally promoted by Rome as an ally against the Carthaginians. In the Second Punic War (218-201), Masinissa went from fighting effectively for Carthage to an alliance with Rome. His cavalry is largely what enabled Scipio Africanus to defeat Hannibal at Zama in 202. He was then supported by the Romans in eliminating his Numidian rivals. However, when he wanted to marry the wife of the great Numidian king Syphax, the Carthaginian princess Sophonisba, the Romans demanded that she be handed over to them. Masinissa enabled her to poison herself instead. Rome supported Masinissa the rest of his life. He died shortly before Carthage itself was exterminated in 146.

Numidian allies thus enabled Rome to overthrow the first foreign culture in North Africa, the Phoenician (or "Punic" to the Romans). The Numidians then, of course, discovered what being an "ally" of Rome really meant, and war resulted as later Kings tried to preserve their independence -- especially the War of Jugurtha (112-105).

In Caesar's Civil War, 49-45 BC, Juba I chose the wrong side and seems to have died in a suicide pact with Marcus Petreius. His son, Juba II, was then raised at Rome and eventually restored to Numidia as a client King. Extraordinarily, he married a daughter of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and Marc Anthony. They had a son, Ptolemy who succeeded Juba. However, although supposedly a loyal Roman ally, and invited by Caligula to visit Rome, with full honors, Caligula then ordered him killed.

So, like the native kingdoms of Anatolia, Numidia was converted into a Roman province, opening the way for the introduction of a Latinate culture. If no other events had intervened, North Africa today would probably boast its own Romance language, like Spanish or French. This, however, was not to be.

A lot of the dating of the Numidian dynasty is uncertain. Thus, the dates in the genealogical diagram are a little different from those in the table.

The Vandals eventually interrupted Roman rule, but not long enough to make any lasting difference, if ʾIslām had not soon arrived. When it did, after a period of heroic resistance by the Berbers, this became the most durably planted foreign culture, with a large colonial element, as the Fatimid Caliphs of Egypt later directed an invasion of ethnic Arab tribes -- in revenge for North African defection from the Fatimids, and from the Shiʿite cause.

The last culture planted was that of France, beginning with the occupation of Algeria in 1830. After a century, something like 30% of the population of Algeria was French colonials, who began to fight as the era of de-colonization threatened their position. This brought about the fall of the French Fourth Republic in 1958. Interestingly, the two greatest French Existentialist writers and philosophers were on opposite sides of the issue. Jean Paul Sartre had become a dogmatic Marxist who demanded Algerian independence at any cost, while Albert Camus, whose most famous book, The Stranger, is set in Algeria, could not so easily dismiss the poor French farmers, the pied-noirs, "black feet," who had lived in Algeria for nearly a century -- Camus also suspected that Sartre's doctrinaire leftism concealed a bit of collaboration with the Germans in World War II.

The return of Charles de Gaulle to power in 1958 ushered in harsh medicine about Algeria. De Gaulle decided that France should cut her losses, and the colony was abruptly granted independence in 1962. This began a bitter exodus of the French colonials and the nauseating torture and massacre of all those Algerians who were associated with the colonial regime. The cycle of terrorism continues even today, as leftist ideology has collapsed into an unhappy civil conflict between military rule and Islamic fundamentalism, and frightened Algerians have increasingly France.

Unfortunately, the French economy, with stupefying labor law, has created national double digit unemployment, far higher in the heavily Moslem immigrant community, which is then supported by the French welfare state in public housing projects that have become virtual No Man's Lands outside many French cities. The idle and resentful unemployed then turn to....crime, Islamic fundamentalism, and Terrorism.

Judas Maccabaeus167-161
Jerusalem Occupied, 164
King ,
John Hyrcanus I135-105
Alexander Jannaeus103-76
Salome Alexandra76-67
Aristobulus II67-63
Pompey captures
Jerusalem, 63
Hyrcanus II63-40
Herod I the GreatKing, 37-4 BC
ArchelausEthnarch, 4 BC-6 AD
Herod II AntipasTetrarch, 4 BC-39 AD
PhilipTetrarch, 4 BC-37 AD
Herod Agrippa IKing, 37-44
Agrippa IIKing, 50/53-100?
Jewish Revolt & War, 66-73: Destruction of Jerusalem, 70 AD; Fall of Masada, 73; Revolt of Bar Kokhba, 132-135
The success of the great struggle of the Maccabees to free the Jews from the
Seleucid Kings is still commemorated in the holiday of Hanukkah, (חֲנוּכָּה), based on an incident when the Temple was reconsecrated after the liberation of Jerusalem. Little oil was available for the Temple lamps, but what there was burned miraculously for eight days. This sign of hope is particularly apt in 2023, after the savage fanatics of Ḥamās murdered hundreds of Jews on October 7th, and their supporters around the world, including in the United States, and alarmingly at institutions of "higher learning," have turned out for "Kill the Jews" demonstrations and riots.

The burning of candles for Hanukkah coincides, however, with similar fire rituals of many people at the darkest time of the year, in December, and Hanukkah has also taken on the gift-giving attributes of Christmas -- exemplifying the adaptation of religious rituals to several purposes. Some people object to this, but it is harmless.

Explanations of Hanukkah often awkwardly refer to the "Syrians" instead of to the Seleucid Greeks ( -- יְוָנִיִּם) as the source of the oppression of Judaea. There certainly seems little risk today in offending the Modern Greeks about this; but referring to "Syrians" evokes the modern state of Syria, which had nothing to do with the Seleucids. Instead of ancient tyranny, with modern Syria we have enough recent issues to deal with, including wars with Israel and a Syrian civil war, after the "Arab Spring," when the Syrian dictatorship, with the help of Russia, devastated a good part of the country and its population. Syrian refugees flooded into Europe, carrying with them a culture more violent and misogynistic than Europeans were used to. This has been a particular problem in Germany and Sweden. Political correctness inhibited the Germans and Swedes from saying what this was, but it has seriously changed local life, especially in Sweden.

The hard won independence of Judaea fell within a century to Rome, which for a time, as elsewhere, tolerated a fiction of local rule -- the Herodian dynasty owed its power entirely to Roman favor. This did not mollify the Messianic hotheads, who inevitably sparked a rebellion that led to the final destruction of the Temple, the end, in a sense, of ancient Judaism, massacres and mass suicides, as at Masada, and the increasing Diaspora of Jews into the Roman world. Out of this also came the story of a peaceful Messiah, who had been executed and resurrected, whose cult eventually overwhelmed Rome itself, transforming Hellenistic Romanism into a culture of both Athens and Jerusalem.

Jews themselves derived little enough benefit from this transformation, since Pauline Christianity had repudiated the ritual requirements of the Law and the new religion became increasingly estranged from the old. Once the new religion became the State Religion of Rome, the rigor with which Judaism had rejected the old gods now became public policy, to their own disability. Christianity never had the provision found in ʾIslām, however grudging, for the toleration, within limits, of kindred religionists.

The fate of Jews in Christendom, as of the basic attitude of Christianity to Judaism, thus became a matter of dispute. Where Christianity began as sect of Judaism, perhaps just a continuation of the Essenes described in detail by Josephus, some post-Pauline Christians wanted Judaism repudiated completely and the Hebrew Bible simply rejected.

The most elaborate version of this turned up in Gnosticism, where the God of the Old Testament was reduced to a minor and malevolent deity. The "Jealous" God of Judaism was not regarded as having the right attitude to be the true Father of Jesus. The popularity of this seems to be due to its appeal to people wanting a secularized, undemanding, and naturalistic religion, with perhaps a touch of anti-Semitism.

The Orthodox decision in the matter was that the God of the Old Testament was indeed the God of the New Testament, the Jews were indeed the Chosen People, and that the Covenants with Abraham, etc. were not only valid in their own right but essential links to the New Covenant established by Jesus. No less an authority than St. Augustine said that Jews must be tolerated so that the Biblical prophecies of the Coming of Christ would be preserved by a disinterested, or even hostile, source.

Augustine, interestingly, did not doubt that Jews could be trusted to faithfully preserve the Hebrew text of the Bible -- as they did. We might contrast this with the accusation in ʾIslām that both Jews and Christians have "falsified" their scriptures, on points that differ with the Qurʾān. While rulers like Philip IV of France might expel the Jews simply to seize their wealth, a lot of anti-Semitism seems to have grass-roots origins, while rulers opposed it, as we see with the Rothschilds.

Now, Christianity granting a role for Judaism in Christianity is very patronizing to Judaism, but it did provide a ground for the toleration of Judaism, which no other principle at the time did (no one having heard of Liberal society). There were shameful exceptions to this toleration, but through the Middle Ages the overwhelming majority of Church authorities staunchly condemned attacks on the Jews. The Popes themselves even refuted, twice, the "blood libel" that Jews used Christian blood for Passover matzos (which would have been a grotesque violation of Jewish dietary laws anyway).

The genealogy of the Hasmonaeans is from The Complete World of The Dead Sea Scrolls (Philip R. Davies, George J. Brooke, & Phillip R. Callaway, Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2002, p.42). The incestuous marriages of the children and grandchildren of Herod the Great, perhaps typical of a Hellenistic dynasty, like the Ptolemies, were very hard to understand. The chart in my edition of Josephus (The Jewish War, Penguin Classics, 1960, p.410) did not make things very clear, but then my colleague Don Smith helped straighten things out for me. There seems to be some question about the parentage of Herodias and Agrippa I -- with Davies, Brooke, & Callaway going for Aristobulus. Aristobulus and his brother Alexander, descendants of the Hasmonaeans through their mother, were both executed by Herod.

Since Mediaeval Jews shared in the continuing trade and commercial culture of the Middle East, and were often its only representatives in impoverished and ruralized Latin Europe, they became fatefully associated in European eyes with the commercial and financial practices that Europeans at once needed, wanted, misunderstood, and resented.

A similar problem later occurred all over again in Eastern Europe, where the Kings of Poland were eager to bring in a more sophisticated population, unwelcome in Western Europe, to develop the country and strengthen the throne.

Such resentments in time found theoretical expression in Marx's view that the Jews embodied the archetype of grasping and exploitive capitalism. This made them class enemies, but that was soon enough converted into race enemies when Marxism mutated into Fascism and Nazism.

Jews who thought they had escaped the class and race animus in the Soviet Union soon came to be suspected, purged, and, increasingly, murdered by Stalin, while Hitler, of course, decided to kill them all. This helped promote the idea, not surprisingly, that all Jews should return to Palestine and found a Jewish State, which is what happened.

After 2000 years, however, the Zionists found that they didn't have a lot in common with the modern Arabic speaking population of the place they returned to -- rather than learn Arabic, they even decided to revive Hebrew, which was already dying out as a spoken language in the days of the Hasmoneans, and which some Jews refused to speak as being a sacred language (they still speak Yiddish). After sixty years, this conflict between Israel and Arab Palestinians has still not been resolved.
The Menôrāh, מְנוֹרׇה, from Herod's Temple,
in the Arch of Titus, Forum Romanum, Rome, 2019

By some estimates, e.g. Paul Johnson in his A History of the Jews [HarperPerennial, 1988], Jews constituted as much as 10% of the population of the Roman Empire. I am not familiar with the basis of this estimate, but I am familiar with the difficulty of estimating Roman population at all. I find so high a figure inherently improbable.

Judaea, although the "land of milk and honey" in the Bible, is a pretty barren place. This is not going to support a large population, especially on the basis of ancient agriculture. That there should be as many Jews there as, for instance, Egyptians is impossible.

Of course, a large part of the estimate is based on the Diaspora population. Even in the time of the Ptolemies, Alexandria already had a very large Jewish population. But that is a key point:  the Diaspora population is mostly going to be urban; but the urban population of the Roman Empire is unlikely to have been more than 20% of the whole. Even today, 85% of the population of Tanzania, whose growth was ruined by the socialism of its post-independence government, is still in agriculture. If the population of the Empire was as much as 20% urban, and Jews were 10% of the population, then Jews would have to constitute nearly half of the population of every city, especially including Rome itself (with a population of a million or more people). That is nothing like the impression we get from the records, where so large a group in Rome would be felt on a constant basis. So this "10%" seems like a gravely inflated figure, though we may never have a really accurate one.

I now see Lea Cline, of the American Academy in Rome (and formerly a graduate student in Classics from the University of Texas at Austin), and now at Illinois State University, saying that the Jewish population of Rome in the 1st century AD was probably about 30,000 people (I say literally saw her, on the "Naked Archaeologist"). The basis for this are records for the number of "synagogal communites" present in the city. Since, from records about numbers of bakeries, tenements, etc., the population of Rome can be estimated as at least a million people, this puts the Jewish population at no more than 3%. This sounds more like it, especially when the Jewish population of Rome is liable to reflect both an urban concentration of Roman Jews and the special concentration effected by the importance of the Roman capital itself -- Jews had been there since well into the Hellenistic Period. If it is impossible that the percentage of Jews in Rome could be lower than in the Empire as a whole, that gives us a good ground for evaluating the percentage given by Paul Johnson.

The Jewish Calendar

Got Temple?

The maps here begin with Rome at its height under Trajan. Trajan's occupation of lower Mesopotamia was impressive but brief. After taking Ctesiphon, the Parthian capital, "he conceived a desire to sail down to the Erythraean Sea" [i.e. the Persian Gulf -- Dio Cassius, Book LXVIII, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1925, 2005, p.415]. Sailing down the Tigris to "the Ocean," he wished he were, like Alexander, on his way to India, "if I were still young" [p.417]. Indeed, he would die within the year (117 AD). Visiting Babylon in order to sacrifice to Alexander at the place of his death, "he mostly saw nothing but mounds and stones and ruins" [p.417].
The Flavian Amphitheater, or the Colosseum, 1970
It had been long since Babylon had been an important city.

Putting down revolts in Mesopotamia, it is not clear how much Trajan really intended to retain, since he installed his own candidiate for Parthian King (Parthamaspates) in Ctesiphon. In any case, Trajan had added upper Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Dacia to the Empire. This, as it happened, involved all the most organized states on the borders of Rome, excepting only Kush. The Pax Romana thus was often a matter of war on the frontiers in order to preserve the peace within. But when Hadrian withdrew from some of Trajan's conquests, he was then troubled by the revolt of Bar Kochba in Judaea.

T. Flavius Vespasianus
Jewish Revolt & War, 66-73; revolt of Civilis, four legions disbanded, 69-70; Destruction of Jerusalem, 70; Fall of Masada, 73
T. Flavius Vespasianus
Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, 79; Colosseum dedicated, 80
T. Flavius Domitianus
Victory of Agricola at Mons Graupius in Caledonia, 83; Dacian Wars, 86-89
M. Cocceius Nerva
M. Ulpius Traianus
Dacia conquered, 101-102, 105-106; Nabataean Petra annexed, 106; Armenia & Mesopotamia annexed, 114; Jewish Revolt, 115-117
P. Aelius Hadrianus
Pantheon rebuilt, c.126; Bar Kochba's Revolt in Judaea, 132-135
Antoninus Pius
T. Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus
Lucius Verus
L. Aurelius Verus
Parthian War, 162-168
Marcus Aurelius
M. Aurelius Antoninus
Antonine Plague, possibly smallpox, 165; Embassy in China?, 166; German War, 168-175
M. Aurelius Commodus Antoninus
P. Helvius Pertinax
Didius Julianus
M. Didius Severus Julianus
buys throne from Praetorian Guard for 25,000 sesterces per man
C. Pescennius Niger Justus
in Syria, 193-194
Clodius Albinus
Decimus Clodius Albinus
in Britain & Gaul, 193-197
The Flavians Vespasian and Titus were both great soldiers and, to the Roman historians, virtuous and admirable men. Unfortunately, Titus's brother Domitian was not quite of the same stamp, and then went on to reign longer than his father and brother. He was succeeded by a fraternity of soldiers who adopted each other to secure competent and peaceful succession. The "Five Good Emperors" (in boldface) became the ideal of generations, all the way to Edward Gibbon, for peaceful and benevolent government.

Trajan was the first Emperor born in the provinces (Spain) and briefly, with his Mesopotamian campaign, expanded the Empire to its greatest extent. In the Middle Ages, Trajan had such a powerful reputation for goodness that the story began to circulate that God had brought him back to life just so he could convert to Christianity. Dante even includes that in the Divine Comedy -- although the principle is forgotten in the movie Constantine [2005]. Antoninus Pius became the only Roman Emperor in 1500 years to be called "the Pious," but we really know precious little about his reign. This may simply illustrate the principle that goodness and peace, the height of the "Pax Romana," is boring.
Left to Right, Marcus Aurelius, Antoninus Pius, Lucius Verus, Hadrian, face of Aelius Caesar; Ephesos Museum, Vienna, 2019

Although most might not consider it an exception to the boredom, a minor event under Antoninus Pius was heavy with portent for the future. This was an oration given by a Greek, Publius Aelius Aristides Theodorus (117/18-180/81), of Adriani in Mysia, at Rome in 143/44 AD. Now called the "Roman Oration," in Greek it is the Εἰς Ῥώμην, "To Rome" [cf. The Ruling Power: A Study of the Roman Empire in the Second Century After Christ Through the Roman Oration of Aelius Arisides, James H. Oliver, The American Philosophical Society, 1953].

This speech is not of much interest to Classicists and is rarely mentioned in treatments of the Roman Empire of this period, yet it expresses profound changes that are in the works. Aelius is a Greek who now has become wholeheartedly Roman. There is not a trace of irony or cynicism in his praise of Rome. After achieving some fame, Aelius later became friendly, at Smyrna where he settled, with Marcus Aurelius. Since "To Rome" is in Greek, as was the diary of Marcus, we see a growth in Greek literature which will flower in the Second Sophistic and which will begin to overshadow secular literature in Latin.

Culturally, Rome is becoming increasingly Greek, a trend that will culminate in the Graecophone Romania of the Middle Ages, where "To Rome" will be much admired and studied both for its language and style and for its patriotic sentiments.

Neither of these is particularly appealing either to Classicists or to most Byzantinists, for the virtues of its language and its loyalties tend to leave both cold:  Classicists are disdainful of Attic Greek unless it was written in the 5th century BC, while Byzantinists are sometimes uncomfortable being reminded that "Byzantines" to themselves were still Ῥωμαῖοι, Rhōmaîoi, Romans. Aelius thus represents the sort of cultural and historical reality about Rome that does not quite fit in with the accustomed narratives and consequently is generally ignored.

The Pax Romana ended under Marcus Aurelius, the closest thing to a "philosopher king" until Thomas Jefferson, but also a very competent general, who smashed a major German invasion across the Danube, while consoling himself with Stoicism for the miseries of war, plague, and personal loss. Marcus's only real failure was to leave the Empire to his worthless son, Commodus -- dying in a place of modern note, Vienna (Vindobona).

Hereditary succession, although eventually stabilized in Constantinople,
Marcus Aurelius, the Piazza del Campidoglio, Capitoline Hill, Rome, 2019
would prove a dangerous principle at many moments in Roman history. The incompetence and viciousness of Commodus then set off his assassination and the second great free-for-all fight for the throne, in 193. This was not without its comic aspect, when the Praetorian Guard killed the disciplinarian Pertinax and literally put the throne up for sale. The wealthy Didius Julianus made the best bid but had no other ability to secure his rule. He was murdered as Septimius Severus, a notably humorless man, approached Rome -- and then also abolished (temporarily) the Guard.

When Jerusalem fell to Titus in 70 AD, the Temple and most of the city were demolished. The furniture and sacred vessels of the Temple, including, Josephus says, the red curtains of the Inner Sanctuary, were carried off to Rome -- portrayed on the Arch of Titus. Reportedly kept in the Temple of Peace (Templum Pacis) in the Roman Forum, they remained there until 455, when the Vandals sacked the city and removed their loot to Carthage. When Belisarius overthrew the Vandals for Justinian in 533 and found the items from the Temple in Carthage, they were sent back to Constantinople.

Since it has previously been noted that the Ark of the Covenant, despite Raiders of the Lost Ark [1981], was not carried off to Tanis, one might wonder what subsequently happened to it. Although Josephus speaks of Titus taking away "the Law," he describes nothing like the Ark. Later, Mediaeval sources (e.g. Mirabilia Urbis Romae, c.1143, The Marvels of Rome, Italica Press, New York, 1986, p.29) speak of the Ark having been in Rome, but this was long, long after the fact. It must not be forgotten, however, that the Temple had once before been destroyed, by Nebuchadnezzar, in 587 BC. It is not clear that anything of the Temple survived, and so the Ark could well have been destroyed then -- or concealed on the Temple Mount, where the Templars supposedly found it, or elsewhere.

The map shows the disposition of the Legions shortly after the end of the Jewish War. One Legion from the campaign, Legio X Fretensis, remains in Judaea, where it already had been the permanent garrison, two others that were given to Vespasian at the beginning of the campaign, Legio V Macedonica and Legio XV Apollinaris, have returned to their stations on the Danube, while a fourth, Legio XII Fulminata, was returned to the Euphrates. Some sources say that there were only three legions involved in the Jewish War, but I have found no explanation why the Legio XII would in that case be left out.

Britain, of course, has now been added to the Empire. My sources disagree on the station and numbering of some of the Legions. The revolt of Civilis in 69-70 led to the disbanding in 70 AD of four legions that participated in the revolt:  Legio I Germana (or Germanica), Legio IV Macedonica, Legio XV Primigenia, and Legio XVI Gallica. These are indicated on the first map of the Army given above.

Of particular interest in the disposition of the Legions in the reign of Antoninus Pius is Legio VI Victrix. On the first map above, it is to be found in Spain. Next it is on the Rhine. Now it is in the North of Britain. In the reign of Marcus Aurelius the Prefect of Legio VI Victrix will be one Lucius Artorius Castus. As discussed below, this man and his name -- Artorius -- may figure in the legends of King Arthur. Otherwise, we see that Dacia has been added to the Empire.

The Pantheon, 1970
The concentration of Legions around Judaea again is in the aftermath of Bar Kochba's Revolt (132-135). This figures in the mystery about Legio IX Hispana. Previously attested in Britain, Legio IX Hispana has disappeared from the list of legions by 165 AD. Much of what we hear about it is speculation.

Since the legion had been posted in Britain, one notion is that it was wiped out by the Picts. We even see this in a recent movie, The Eagle [2011]. There is no evidence from the period, however, that any legion was wiped out in Britain. Equally speculative is the suggestion that Legio IX Hispana was among the units sent to suppress the Bar Kochba revolt and that it was wiped out there. Again, there is no evidence for either event. Instead, since the legion does disappear from the records and is never revived, which means that something bad must have happened to it, we might ask if there is any evidence that any legion was wiped out or disbanded during the period before 165 AD.

Well, yes. In 161, the Parthians occupied Armenia and defeated the governor of Cappadocia, Aelius (or Marcus Sedatius) Severianus, at Elegeia on the Euphrates, wiping out his legion. Severianus, who had been assured of victory by a shady "prophet," Alexander of Abonutichus, committed suicide. The Parthians then defeated the governor of Syria, Attidius Cornelianus. This set off a Parthian War (161-166), for which the Emperor Lucius Verus was present in the East, even though the campaign was prosecuted by other generals, resulting in the sack and burning of Ctesiphon in 166. The identity of the legion of Aelius Severianus is not specified in the sources; but if we know that a legion was destroyed, and we know that Legio IX Hispana disappears from the record, when that only happens if a legion is wiped out in battle or disbanded because of rebellion, the inference seems reasonable that this was the legion. What other legion would have been wiped out at Elegeia? So speculation about the Picts or Bar Kochba seems superfluous.

Legions of the Roman Army

Contact with Han Dynasty China, 166 AD

A curious footnote to the period of the Antonines is an entry in the Chinese History of the Later Han Dynasty, the (後漢書, Hòu Hànshū). It is recorded that in the year 166 an embassy arrived in Lo-Yang from a ruler of (or 大秦國, Dà Qín Guó, or 犂鞬, Líjiān), "Great Ch'in." This name is explained in the history:


Qí rénmín jiē chángdà píngzhēng yǒu lèi Zhōngguó gù wèi zhī Dàqín.

The inhabitants of that country are tall and well-proportioned [or honest, right, just, fair], somewhat like the Chinese, whence they are alled Ta-ts'in. [i.e. "Ta-Ch'in"; China and the Roman Orient, by Friedrich Hirth, 1885, photostat by Legare Street Press, pp.41,100; Pinyin assembled by the editor]

The speculation is that this country was named after China and its inhabitants seen so positively because of a cosmological belief that in the Far West there should be a moral and cultural counterpart to China in the East. Lack of direct evidence until later allowed a mythological view to grow.

The embassy had come up from Vietnam (or Annam, 安南, or 日南, Rìnán) after, apparently, travelling by sea from the West.

The name of the ruler was given as 安敦, Āndūn. This looks like it might be "Antoninus," which could mean either Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius, both of whom used the name. Thus, "Great Ch'in" is usually taken to mean Rome, and the embassy was sent to explore ways to redirect the silk trade around the route, the Silk Road through Central Asia, dominated by the Parthians -- "Parthia" in Chinese would be 安息, Ānxī, apparently derived from the name of the Dynasty, the Arsacids. If so, nothing came of it. Nevertheless, the Chinese always noted this as the first contact with "Great Ch'in." Thus, the 明史, Míngshǐ, dynastic history says Great Ch'in, "first communicated with China at the time of the emperor Huan-ti," 桓帝時始通中國, Huándì shí shǐ tōng Zhōngguó [Hirth, op.cit., pp.64,109]. Huan-ti (146-168), of course, was in the time of the Later Han Dynasty.

The possibility of any communication between the great contemporary Empires of Rome and the Han is tantalizing. My impression has been that Chinese attempts, like the embassy of 97 AD sent by Pan Ch'ao, 班超 (Bān Chāo), to establish some communication overland, were frustrated by the Parthians. The Chinese themselves knew that the Parthians were interfering with communication between Rome and China. The Hòu Hànshū itself says that the Parthians told Kan-ying, 甘英 (Gānyīng), Pan Ch'ao's emissary, that a sea crossing of three months, or even two years, was required to get to Dà Qín. So Kan-ying gave up.

However, we have a curious reference in the minor Roman historian Lucius Annaeus Florus (d.130), who reports that foreign envoys arriving at the Court of the Emperor Augustus included people called the Seres: Seres etiam habitantesque sub ipso sole Indi, "The Seres too and the Indians, who live immediately beneath the sun" [Florus, Epitome of Roman History, translated by Edward Seymour Forster, Harvard, 1929, 1984, pp.348-349]. If these are the same as Greek Σῆρες, "Sêres" (singular Σήρ), then they would be Chinese. Since we know in detail about the failure of the Chinese mission of Kan-ying, the speculation is that these "Seres" could have been Chinese merchants who had made their way to Rome, avoiding the Parthians, without any official status. Florus gives us no details about them so, evidently, they did not spread anything in the way of stories or information about China.

The Record of the Three Kingdoms, 三國志, Sānguózhì, says the Romans "always wished to send embassies to China, but the An-hsi wanted to make profit out of their trade with us, and would not allow them to pass their country" [translaton and Chinese text in Hirth, op.cit., pp.70,111]. However, as we often see, this statement in the Sānguózhì repeats a version of what is already in the Hòu Hànshū:

Qí wáng cháng yù tōng shǐ yú Hàn

Ér Ānxí yù yǐ Hàn zēngcǎi yǔ zhī jiāo shì

Gù zhē ài bùdé zì dá

Their kings always desired to send embassies to the Han, but the Parthians wished to carry on trade with them in Chinese silks, and it is for this reason that they were cut off from communication. [Hirth, pp.42,100; translation modified].

Digraph 繒綵, zēngcǎi: , zēng, is "silken fabrics," Mathews' character #6767; substituted for at Wikipedia, cǎi, "colored" or "colored silk."

Since we know that the Romans had knowledge of and trade with India and Ceylon, and that Chinese pilgrims like Fa-Hsien went by sea from India to China (399-414), it is not at all impossible or unlikely that some Romans, in the days of the Kushans in India, could have done what the Hòu Hànshū says.

Indeed, the Sānguózhì says of the Romans that "Formerly only the water-road was spoken of; they did not know there was an overland route" [Hirth, pp.75,113]. That sounds inconsistent with the previous statement; for, if you know that the Parthians are blocking communication, then that means there is an overland route. However, this may mean that there is another overland route, north of the Parthians, along the Steppe.

Indeed, when overland communication is established later in 643, this is after an alliance is made with the Khazars, who anchor the West end of the Steppe, and who themselves had come along from the East. From knowing the Khazars, the Romans could well learn how to travel around what then would be the interfering Sassanids. The Hòu Hànshū was actually written in the 5th century, and the Chinese were still aware that Iranians, which by then meant the Sassanids, were still frustrating attempts at direct trade with "Great Ch'in."

Roman historians do not mention an embassy like this in the days of the Antonines. A possibility, however, is that this was not an official embassy from the Emperor but Roman merchants who had made their way to China and who figured that, while they were there, they should negotiate about Roman interests -- perhaps not unlike the Seres reported in the Court of Augustus. In those terms, it could also be like the Nestorian monks in the days of Justinian who discovered the secrets of silk production. Returning to Constantinople, however, the monks turned their discovery into an official job of industrial espionage, to return to China and obtain silk worm eggs, which they did.

On the other hand, Chinese records of these contacts were preserved and written up in the Dynastic Histories, both in relation to specific events and as general surveys:

At the end of each of these dynastic histories, twenty-four in number, a chapter more or less extensive is found devoted to the foreign countries and peoples, who came in contact with the Chinese empire. They are generally termed 四夷 sze-yi [sìyí], "the four kinds of barbarians" (in allusion to the four quarters of the globe). [Notes on Chinese Mediæval Travellers to the West, E. Bretschneider, M.D., Shanghai, American Presbyterian Mission Press, 1875, p.1; we also hear about the "five barbarians," 五胡 wǔhú, which is an actual ethnographic, not geographic, division]

At the same time, all that is left of diplomatic and archival records in Constantinople are the thousands of lead seals (yes, thousands), the σφραγῖδες (singular σφραγίς), that remained to be excavated on site. How the archives of Constantinople were destroyed is a good question. They easily could have been burned in an accidental fire, or in the sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204 or by the Ottomans in 1453. We have little sense of just how much damage was done on those occasions, although it was considerable -- looting and mere vandalism were widespread:

Constantinople [under the Palaeologi] still housed more classical texts than survive today. A complete Diodoros of Sicily was seen in the [grand] palace library in 1453. [Kaldellis, The New Roman Empire, op.cit., p.902]

Some fragment of the palace archives is certainly evident in the De Administrando Imperio by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. The Administrando is a survey of the states and peoples around Romania with whom an Emperor, and his generals, must deal. The Chinese histories did this kind of thing for every Dynasty, but Constantine's product was a one-off.

For our purpose here, the curious thing about the Administrando is that it contains no references to China, nothing about Σηρίνδα, "Sērínda," or the Σῆρες people. Yet we know that the Roman government was directly acquainted with China at least since the time of Justinian, and diplomatically since Constans II. Likely Constantine judged that China was too distant to be of any immediate concern. But we would have liked to know what he knew and thought about the place.

Under Constans II, official contact with China, overland, would be established between Constantinople and T'ang Dynasty China. This would continue for centuries, until the Hung-wu, 洪武, Emperor announced to John V the inception of the Ming Dynasty. The Chinese were always aware, however, that the embassy of 166 was the first time that China had contact with Rome. From the Romans, on the other hand, the whole business is missing from the historical records that we have, except for the account in Procopius of sericulture.

At the same time, China in general is not entirely missing from the records. Theophylact Simocatta, Θεοφύλακτος Σιμοκάτης (580?-630?), seems to have known a fair amount about Chinese recent history, politics, and geography -- even about the end of the Northern and Southern Empires period:

ὁ δὲ τῆς Ταυγὰστ κλιματάρχης Ταϊσὰν ὀνομάζεται, ὅπερ υἱὸς θεοῦ ταῖς Ἑλληνινικαῖς φωναῖς ἐνσημαίνεται. ἡ δὲ ἀρχὴ τῆς Ταυγὰστ οὐ στασιάζεται· γένος γὰρ αὐτοῖς τὴν χειροτονίαν τοῦ ἡγεμόνος παρέχεται. τούτῳ δὲ τῷ ἔθνει θρησκεία ἀγάλματα, νόμοι δὲ δίκαιοι, καὶ σωφροσύνης ἔμπλεος ὁ βίος αὐτοῖς... ταύτην τὴν Ταυγὰστ ποταμὸς διορίζει. πάλαι τοίνυν ποτὲ δύο μεγίστοις ἔθνεσιν ὁ ποταμὸς ἐμεσίτευεν ἀντιθέτοις ἀλλήλοις· ἐσθὴς δὲ τῷ μὲν ἑνὶ μέλαινα, τῷ δὲ ἑτέρῳ κοκκόβαφος. ἐν τοῖς χρόνοις τοίνυν τοῖς καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς, Μαυρικίου τὰ Ῥωμαίων σκῆπτρα ἐπέχοντος, καὶ τὸ ἔθνος τῶν μελαινοφόρων τοῖς τὴν ἐρυθρὰν περιβεβλημένοις ἐσθῆτα διαπεραιωσάμενον τὸν ποταμὸν συνίστησι πόλεμον, εἶτα νενικηκὸς τῆς ὅλης ἡγεμονίας γίνεται κύριον.

The ruler [κλιματάρχης] of Taugast [大漢, Dà Hàn?] is called Taisan, which signifies 'son of god' [天子, Tiānzǐ?] in the Greek tongue. The realm of Taugast is not troubled by discord, for lineage provides them with the selection of their leader. Statues are the religion of his nation, and laws are just, and their life is full of temperance... A river divides this Taugast [the Yangtze?]; now once long ago the river was interposed between two great nations who were mutually hostile; the dress of one was black, and the other scarlet-hued. Then in our times, while Maurice was in possession of the Roman scepters, the black-robed nation crossed the river and joined battle with those wearing the red clothing; next, having gained victory, it became lord of the whole dominion. [Greek Text, Theophylacti Simocattae Historiae, edited by Carlus De Boor, Lipsiae, 1837, photocopy Legare Street Press, pp.260-261; The History of Theophylact Simocatta, An English Translation with Introduction and Notes, by Michael and Mary Whitby, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1986, 1988, pp.191-192, translation modified]

The Sui Dynasty unified China by conquering the South in 589, which was indeed in the time of the Emperor Maurice. Theophytact's good information about this is then spoiled as he goes on to say that "Taugast," Ταυγάστ, is near Bactria and Sogdiana and was founded by Alexander the Great. Clearly he has confused China with something else, and he has also failed to make the connection between "Taugast" and Σηρίνδα or the Σῆρες people, which he could have read about in Procopius. On the other hand, it is striking that his understanding of the Chinese state is so positive, with "just laws," etc., which sounds like what the Chinese later report about "Great Ch'in."

We don't know how Theophylact learned about this. We might speculate, however, that the sources of his information exposed lines of communication to China, which in turn may have motivated the mission sent by Constans II in 643. Since Theophylact was living in the time of Heraclius, and relations were established with the Khazars, they can have been the source of information. Subsequently, despite many contacts attested in Chinese records, we don't find further accounts of China in Greek histories.

Contact with T'ang Dynasty China, 643 AD

Sword-and-Sandals Epics

Although Hollywood, and Italian cinema, used to turn out one Roman themed movie after another, frequently with religious overtones, called "sword-and-sandals" epics -- Ben Hur [1959] may well be the greatest and most characteristic of these -- the genre all but died with a 1964 movie about Commodus, The Fall of the Roman Empire (a tad premature there on the "Fall"). Except for Fellini's strange Satyricon (1970), the pornographic Caligula (1979), and the comic Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), the next Roman movie would not be released until 2000, with Ridley Scott's big budget and successful Gladiator.

This is also, as it happens, about Commodus. The closing implication of Gladiator is diametrically the opposite of the 1964 movie, with the good guys apparently having won and a hopeful future in the offing. Neither movie, of course, gets it quite right. The competition for the throne in 193 was not very edifying, and absolutely none of the players appears in Gladiator, not even Pertinax, the prefect of the city of Rome, who became the next Emperor. On the other hand, the story does not pretend to historical accuracy about the events.

Commodus did like to fight gladiators, but he was not killed that way, and certainly not by a wronged general. He was strangled in his bath by his "wrestling partner," named Narcissus, sent my his mistress Marcia, who had found her name on a list of people to be executed. There is no evidence that Commodus killed his father, or any hint that Marcus considered a non-hereditary succession. Even in the movie it is clear that his provision for such a thing came far too late to be effective.

Gladiator is a good movie and a good story, but it is not a serious attempt to present real Roman history. Because of its success, however, one can hope that other events in Roman history, however fictionalized, will have a chance to make it onto the screen. So far, however, 2023 has passed with no follow-up. What I am waiting for is King Harald's Saga.

Septimius Severus
L. Septimius Severus
defeat of Niger in Syria, 194, of Albinus in Gaul, 197; Parthian War, 198-199; prohibition of conversions to Judaism or Christianity, 202; British Campaign, 207-211
M. Aurelius (Septimius Bassianus) Antoninus
P. Lucius Septimius Geta
Constitutio Antoniniana, Roman
Citizenship to all free persons, 212
M. Opellius Macrinus
M. Oppellius Diadumenianus
Defeat by Parthians at Nisibis,
buys peace, 217
M. Aurelius Antoninus
Alexander Severus
M. Aurelius Alexander
Persian War, Roman defeats but mutual losses, 230-232
It took a little time for Septimius to put down all the would-be Emperors in the provinces, but he did so with determination and ferocity. The virtues of nobility reputed to Trajan, of culture to Hadrian, of piety to Antoninus, and of philosophy to Marcus Aurelius were all missing in Septimius Severus. Born in North Africa, Punic (
Phoenician) seems to have been the first language of Severus, and he never lost the accent. This makes it look like Severus was the first Roman Emperor who was not of ethnic Latin derivation. Indeed, if his backgrown was Punic, then we might call him "Hannibal's Revenge." A child of the conquered now rules the conquerors.

The marriage of Severus to the Syrian Julian Domna, of Emesa (Homs), also blew away previous Roman scruples about Roman rulers being associated with Eastern Princesses -- the memory of Cleopatra long put such unions in bad favor. Soon, few Emperors would be of demonstrable Latin derivation. Some scholars, as we have seen, find this disturbing, if not discrediting to the identity of Rome.

Severus also doesn't seem to have considered anything other than hereditary succession, despite having a particularly nasty son, Caracalla, as the candidate. His attempt to balance Carcalla with his brother Geta simply got Geta murdered. Another factor, however, was the loyalty inspired in the troops to the family. Septimius had bluntly advised his sons, in the Greek we have from Dio Cassius:  ὁμονοεῖτε, τοὺς στρατιώτας πλουτίζετε, τῶν ἄλλων πάντων καταφρονεῖτε (Homonoeîte, toùs stratiôtas ploutízete, tôn allôn pántôn kataphroneîte), "Stick together [be of one mind]; enrich the soldiers; be contemptuous of [put out of mind] all the others" [Dio Cassius IX, Roman History, Books LXXI-LXXX, translated by Earnest Cary, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1927, 2001, pp.270-273].

Arch of Septimius Severus, Forum Romanum, Rome, 2019
Caracalla, although not sticking with his brother, maintained his popularity reasonably well, until he terrified enough soldiers to precipitate his inevitable murder. This led to the brief and unsuccessful reign of Macrinus (also a North African) and his son, until loyalty to the Severan family prevailed. Macrinus was the first Roman Emperor who never visited Rome during his reign.

Meanwhile, the relatively successful campaign of Severus against Parthia, despite the subsequent Parthian defeat of Macrinus, may have weakened the regime enough to allow for the coup of the Sassanid Persians, who would be much more trouble for the Romans than the Parthians had ever been. Septimius Severus himself was one of the two Roman Emperors (Constantius Chlorus was the other) to die (a natural death) at York (Eboracum) in Britain.

While the reign of Caracalla does not have much to recommend it, a fateful step was taken with the Constitutio Antoniniana of 212, which extended Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the Roman Empire. This is sometimes said to have been just a trick to collect more taxes, which did not make much difference in the rights of Roman subjects. However, it made one very serious difference:  Any Roman citizen could become Emperor. Perhaps it is not surprising that this was the work of an Emperor who may have had no Latin ancestry at all. Hannibal himself could now become a Roman Emperor.

The principle of Roman citizenship endured through the Middle Ages in Romania, and we have a Greek version in the βασιλικά code of the Emperor Leo VI: Οἱ ἐν τῇ Ῥωμαϊκῇ γῇ ὄντες πολῖται Ῥωμαίων εἰσίν, "Those who are in the Roman land are citizens of the Romans."

The Severan "family" turned out to be the entirely matrilineal creation of Severus' sister-in-law, Julia Maesa, who brought her two grandsons, entirely unrelated to Severus, to the throne. The bizarre Elagabalus (sometimes "Heliogabalus"), styling himself the god of his grandmother's Emesan solar cult (and engaging gladiators in combats more amorous and carnal than Commodus had contemplated), and then the amiable and reasonably effective Alexander thus wrapped up the dynasty.

Alexander was killed after the overdue reality check of battle, against the newly aggressive Sassanids (224-651). He was not that bad, but evidently not good enough for his own troops, who killed him and his mother -- that his mother was along with him on a military campaign probably seemed no better to the soldiers then than it does now. Elagabalus and his mother were also killed together. Elagabalus, indeed, seems to have been the last truly "fun" Roman Emperor in terms of the pagan sexual antics otherwise fondly remembered from Caligula. The transvestism and bi-sexuality of Elagabalus, however, may have gone beyond even Caligula.

The Second Sophistic

An intellectual revival took place in the time of the Severans. This is called the "Second Sophistic," and in its most general form it represents a revival of Greek literature, and a concern for the Greek literary heritage, after a temporary eclipse by Latin authors. This is often viewed in narrow terms by scholars, with an emphasis on oratory and rhetoric; but its larger signifiance is unmistakable. Indeed, Latinists may have difficulty appreciating the growth of Greek literature, even when it is written by Emperors, like Marcus Aurelius and Julian.

The Second Sophistic was actually named by Philostratus (d.247/250), in his The Lives of the Sophists. The presence and influence of Philostratus at Court was a function of the interests of Julia Domna, his patron. He says that Julia attracted a circle of mathematicians and philosophers. However, this actually meant something more like "astrologers and sophists," and the revival, as philosophy, was more of a retrospective on ancient philosophy than a movement that contributed much that was original or of interest to it. Nevertheless, such an inspiration and preoccupation has been compared to similar concerns in the Renaissance.

More importantly, in retrospect, the Second Sophistic on its literary side is dated to the previous century, where we see a surge of Greek literature and a decline in Latin authors. It is not an accident that Cassell's New Latin Dictionary, of which I have the 1959 edition [Funk & Wagnalls, New York], only gives the vocabulary of classical authors from "about 200 B.C. to A.D. 100." Frederic M. Wheelock's Latin [Barnes & Noble, 1956, 1966; revised as Wheelock's Latin by Richard A. LaFleur, HarperResource, 2000] lists Tactitus (d.117) and Juvenal (d.127) as the last secular Latin authors.

Wheelock's "Silver Age" is followed by "The Patristic Period," which lists Latin Fathers of the Church but refers to no secular literature and no secular authors in Latin until Dante! This implies that authors like Ammianus Marcellinus (d.395), Orosius (c.418), Boethius (d.524), and Cassiodorus (d.585), and Jordanes (c.551), were insignificant -- likewise for Isidore of Seville (d.636), who nevertheless is quoted by Wheelock (pp.211-212). Similarly, we must not forget the codification of Roman Law largely in Latin by Justinian in the 6th century. This is a supremely secular product of Roman civilization.

But secular Latin authors did become rare after 100 AD, and both Orosius and (St.) Isidore had concerns that were as much religious as secular. Ammianus, a Greek himself, wrote his history in Latin out of worry that the genre might die out -- as it would, indeed, in its most sophisticated form, with him. Meanwhile, Greek literature, in turn, flowers, as we get Plutarch (d.120), Arrian of Nicomedia (c.87-c.145 AD, Consul 129), Pausanius (c.150), Lucian (d.180), Aelius Aristides (117-181), Dio Cassius (d.229), and others (not to mention the long tradition of Neoplatonic philosophers) -- who are never confused with or obscured by the Greek Fathers -- through the rest of the history of Rome and Romania.

Thus, the larger meaning of the Second Sophistic is that Greek becomes the principal literary language of the Roman Empire, an aspect of the matter rarely noted. Wheelock's "Patristic Age" conceals this under the implication that religion becomes the principal content of Roman literature, ignoring what is in Greek. From its new status, of course, in the 7th century Greek replaces Latin and becomes the language of the Roman Court, Army, and Law -- in Constantinople -- from which Classicists tend to flee as no longer "Roman" at all, although it's not what the Romans -- Roman citizens under Roman law -- thought themselves.

A characteristic of the Second Sophistic, such as we see in Arrian, the 2nd century historian, philosopher, and official (he repelled the Alans from Cappadocia -- and he transcribed the teachings of Epictetus the Stoic), and the others, is the movement to write in Attic Greek, rather than in the Κοινή (Koiné), of the Hellenistic Period. This is usually dismissed as an affectation and a frivolity. Perhaps it was, but it is also directly comparable to the concern of Renaissance writers to restore the "purity" of Ciceronian Latin over the received Mediaeval Latin that had survived to their time.

Renaissance writers are rarely belabored for affectation because of this. And indeed, where Greek and Latin are taught today, the student, as it happens, begins with Attic Greek and Ciceronian Latin. The focus on Attic Greek in education, which began with the Second Sophistic, thus continued straight through the Middle Ages and has been in full flood through all of modern education in Classical Greek. When Greek speaking refugees fled the Ottoman Conquest, they did not teach Italians the spoken Greek of their time but the Attic Greek whose example and literature they respected. Indeed, Renaissance scholars could not have read Thucydides or Plato otherwise. The "purity" of the Greek language remains a political issue in Modern Greece.

More than an affectation, this Atticizing tradition accompanies the circumstance that the earliest and most interesting and some of the most important literature in these languages, especially for new scholars, is in the Attic and Ciceronian dialects -- from Thucydides and Plato to Caesar and Cicero himself. Preserving the archaic language meant that the authors could still be read in their own words. Perhaps Classicists are somehow annoyed that the Ancient and Mediaeval authors in Greek actually agree with them that the surpreme models of the Greek language are in Attic.

Some of Wheelock's statements in this respect are of further interest. Thus, under his treatment of the "Patristic Period," he says:

The name of the Patristic Period comes from the fact that most of the vital literature was the work of the Christian leaders, or fathers (patrēs), among whom were Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine. These men had been well educated; they were familiar with, and frequently fond of, the best classical authors; many of them had even been teachers or lawyers before going into the service of the Church. At times the classical style was deliberately employed to impress the pagans, but more and more the concern was to reach the common people (vulgus) with the Christian message. Consequently, it is not surprising to see vulgar [i.e. spoken] Latin re-emerging as an important influence in the literature of the period. St. Jerome in his letters is essentially Ciceronian, but in his Latin edition of the Bible, the Vulgate (383-405 A.D.), he uses the language of the people. Similarly, St. Augustine, though formerly a teacher and a great lover of the Roman classics, was willing to use any idiom that would reach the people (ad ūsum vulgī) and said that it did not matter if the barbarians conquered Rome provided they were Christians. [pp.xxviii-xxix]

This may puzzle the modern student, whose study will need to be far progressed before he notices that the language of Augustine, the most prolific Latin author, or Jerome is substantially different from that of Cicero. And when Wheelock features a quote from St. Isidore, writing in 7th century Visigothic Spain, without any caution that this may be a corrupted "Vulgar Latin," this tends to subvert the sense that earlier authors were writing anything suggestive of Mediaeval Latin or the proto-Romance languages that soon become attested. And when the modern student engaged with religion, or with philosophy, turns to the Vulgate or Augustine, why should Wheelock act as though these are estranged, by corruption or decadence, from the language he is teaching?

Perhaps his final comment here gives it away. Wheelock may have a secular distaste for the "Patristics." Augustine is more interested in the survival of his religion than of his nation or his civilization. Modern secularists, however, going far beyond Wheelock, reveling in their cynicism and Nietzschean nihilism, have gotten to the point where neither religion, nor nation, or nor civilization draws their loyalty. Their own Narcissism is the only explanation for their mentality.

These languages, Greek and Latin, are the languages, our Classical languages of Western civilization, and their literature, that we do not want forgotten, if the root values and experience of our civilization are not to be forgotten. But their existence is in greater danger in our time than ever before:  a Shakespeare, purportedly with "small Latin and less Greek," would be a scholar of Classics (as he actually was) compared to most graduates of modern universities. Latin used to be taught in my high school, but then it was not even offered at the college where I taught for 22 years.

One reason today for disparagement of the Second Sophistic, although this will not be an issue for Classicists, may in part be the antipathy in academic linguistics for written language and unconcern for the preservation of the literary heritage embodied in Classical Languages. This may accompany a self-hating, anti-Western, and generally anti-American bias that is often evident in both linguistics and other academic literature.

This animus curiously tends to be focused on Greek and Latin and not on Classical Arabic, Sanskrit, or Classical Chinese, whose preservation and use are generally exempted from criticism. The politically correct are happy to destroy their own tradition but sensitive (and cowardly) about doing this where accusations could be made against them of ethnocentrism, Eurocentrism, "Islamophobia," or racism. Yet they usually have no real interest either in the civilizations of ʾIslām, India, China, or anywhere else, and may be shockingly ignorant about all of them, repeating clichés that usually owe more to Marxism than to real knowledge of other cultures or civilizations, whose language, literature, and history (excluded from "multicultural" education) are generally not honestly taught, or taught at all.

The disposition of the Legions in the Severan Army now is looking pretty familiar. Warren Treadgold [Byzantium and its Army, 284-1081, Sanford, 1995, p.45] says that the Army of 235 AD contains 34 legions plus the Praetorian Guard. On the map above, I only show 33, as gleaned from maps in the sources cited. Treadgold estimates the total Army, legions plus auxiliaries, at around 385,000 men. In the sources given, the legions are only named by A.H.M. Jones [The Later Roman Empire, 284-602, Volume II, Johns Hopkins, 1986, pp.1438-1444]. Jones tentatively places Legio IV Italica in Mesopotamia, which would raise the total legions to 34, as in Treadgold. These are the last days of the Classic Army of the Principate. After the Crisis of the Third Century, the structure, constituents, and even command ranks of the Roman Army are going to be very different. The traditional legions persist by name, but they are absorbed into command structures where they eventually lose their old identity.

It is noteworthy that in my sources on the Severan Army, the Legions are named by Jones and by Adrian Goldsworthy in The Complete Roman Army [Thames & Hudson, 2003], but neither Goldworthy nor the other sources cited on the map give the locations of the Severan Legions. Jones places them in the text, in the context of the Army of the Dominate. Recently, The Roman Army, the Greatest War Machine of the Ancient World, edited by Chris McNab [Osprey Publishing, 2010], does not have a list of any Legions, so the neglect of the Severan Army is less conspicuous. But the McNab book is curious in that the "Later Empire" is dated to begin in 200 AD, right in the middle of the reign of Septimius Severus, even though in the text the discussion of the Later Army begins with Alexander Severus or Constantine [p.206]. Thus the period the Severans is, after a fashion, cut out of the history altogether. No source, except Jones again, bothers with the Legions of the Army of the Dominate, which multiply in number and are smaller than the Legions of the Principate but whose identity often continues, even in the place of their previous posting, as with the Legio II Augusta and Legio VI Victrix in Britain.

Legions of the Roman Army

So why the lacuna or the short shrift for the Severan Army? Well, it may be that Classicists are beginning to lose heart. Interest in the Empire declines, step by step, as we move away from the Julio-Claudians. The Antonines still draw a good bit of enthusiasm, with Marcus Aurelius and Commodus turning up in some Hollywood movies. But treatments like that are swamped by the popular representations of Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. And then, after Commodus, silence. Even the two hour History Channel special, "Roman Vice," ended with Nero, passing up the chance to treasure one of the most vicious Roman Emperors of all, Caracalla, and one of the bizarre, Elagabalus.

Earlier popularizing authors may have shied away from the extremes of the behavior of Elababalus, who did things that used to be taboo in polite conversation; but that is no excuse now, when that should be one of the most appealing things about him. It is as though there is a sense of unease. The closer we get to Constantine, about whom feelings are so mixed, confused, and generally hostile, it is as though a force field begins to be felt that inhibits movement. The great drama of the Tetrarchy, with the extraordinary personalities and events involved, leaves modern historical fiction, and Hollywood, cold. The most that the public gets for the period are the tendentious, preposterous, and ahistorical speculations and misrepresentations of The Da Vinci Code. Even the straight historical treatments on the cable networks, which do remind us that people like Aurelian, Diocletian, Majorian, and Justinian at least exist, are usually no less tendentious, as I have occasion to note here.

Rome and Romania Index


This map looks like it should be from the Fifth Century. The Goths, not yet divided, are here, but they come in part by boat, which we will not see with them later. The Franks here duplicate the later course of the Vandals, through Gaul, Spain, and North Africa, but without the same effects. Later, the Franks will not be a principal invader but will be the ultimate beneficiary of the invasions.

The Alemanni also will be less active later, remaining in Germany and leaving their name as the word for "German" in Romance languages. Rome is weakened by revolt in the West and a Palmyrene takeover in the East. But in this era Roman institutions prove resilient enough to restore the status quo ante (with troubling strategic withdrawals). But the Germans remain across the Rhine and Danube, growing in numbers and sophistication. One might even say that all this was a dress rehearsal for the later invasions. In the theater, if the dress rehearsal goes poorly, the opening will go well. This is what happened.

The Gallic Empire of Postumus began under Gallienus. Postumus, of course, probably would rather have overthrown the Emperor, but he was not able to defeat him and was otherwise involved with fighting Germans. In best Third Century tradition, he was killed by his troops. This form of succession continued until Tetricus and his son surrendered to Aurelian, on condition of their peaceful retirement. This episode echoes the attempt of the usurper Constantine "III" in the Fifth Century, though that failed to suppress the Germans in that era and merely served to absorb the attention of Roman forces that could have been better used, in conjunction with those of Constantine himself, against the common enemy.

Maximinus I Thrax

the Thracian
C. Julius Verus Maximinus
235-238SONS, BROTHERS, etc.
Gordian I Africanus
M. Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus
238Gordian II
M. Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus
Balbinus & Pupiens
D. Caelius Calvinus Balbinus & M. Clodius Pupienus Maximus
Gordian III
M. Antonius Gordianus

Philip I the Arab
M. Julius Philippus
244-249Philip II
M. Julius Severus Philippus
Nile fails to flood, 244; Millennium of Rome, from 753 BC, observed, last celebration of Secular Games, Ludi Saeculares, 248
C. Messius Quintus Decius
Q. Herennius Etruscus Messius Decius
Cyprian Plague, possibly a haemorrhagic fever, 249; River Thames frozen for 9 weeks, 250; Presecution of Christians, 250-251; Decius & Herennius killed by Goths at Abritta, 251
Trebonianus Gallus
C. Vibius Trebonianus Gallus
C. Valens Hostilianus Gallus
C. Vibius Afinius Gallus Veldumnianus Volusianus
M. Aemilius Aemilianus
Valerian I
P. Licinius Valerianus
P. Licinius Egnatius Gallienus
German invasions, 257; defeated and captured by the Sassanid Shāh Shapur I, 260
M. Cassianius Latinius Postumus
in Gaul, 259-268Valerian II
P. Licinius Cornelius Valerianus
Caesar, 256-258
P. Licinius Cornelius Saloninus Valerianus
Caesar, 258-260; Emperor, 260
Saloninus killed by Postumus, 260;
invasion by the Goths, 267
Claudius II Gothicus
M. Aurelius Claudius
M. Aurelius Quintillus
Defeat of Goths, 269
M. Piavonius Victorinus
in Gaul, 268-270
Tetricus I
C. Pius Esuvius Tetricus
in Gaul, 270-273Tetricus II
C. Pius Esuvius Tetricus
Septimia Zenobia
Palmyra, 267-272Vaballathus
L. Julius Aurelius Septimius Vaballathus Athenodorus
L. Domitius Aurelianus
Withdrawal from Dacia, 271
M. Claudius Tacitus
M. Annius Florianus
M. Aurelius Probus
M. Aurelius Carus
M. Aurelius Numerianus
M. Aurelius Carinus
Mission to China?
Killed by lightning?
The chaos that had threatened in some earlier successions (in 69 and 193) now arrived in 238, when we can say that there were five Emperors in one year. Maximinus Thrax may have been the second Emperor who never visited Rome. He was on his way there, because the Senate had recognized the usurpation of the Gordians in Africa, when the Praetorian Guard murdered him at Aquileia. Meanwhile, of course, Gordian II had been killed in battle by a Maximinus loyalist, the governor of Numidia. Gordian I committed suicide.

So neither Gordian made it to Rome either. The confused Senate elected the Senators Balbinus & Pupiens Co-Emperors. When the Guard murdered them in turn, only their nomination of Gordian III as Caesar provided for a reasonable succession. If only that were the end of problem.

The complexity of the following period can only be appreciated, or even understood, by reviewing the "Crisis of the Third Century" chart. Few Emperors reigned long or died natural deaths. Gordian III's six years would count as lengthy for the period, but his murder would prove all too typical. The musical chairs of murders did not help prepare the Empire for increased activity by the Germans and Persians.

Decius and Herennius were killed in battle by the Goths in 251 -- the only Roman Emperors to die in battle (against external enemies) besides Julian (against the Persians, 363), Valens (against the Goths again, 378), Nicephorus I (against the Bulgars, 811), and Constantine XI (with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, 1453). These Emperors are now marked with a "killed in battle" icon -- . Valerian's relatively long and promising reign ended with the unparalleled ignominy of being captured by Shapur I -- the only Roman Emperor captured alive by a foreign enemy until Romanus IV in 1071.

These Emperors are now marked with a "captured by foreign enemy" icon -- -- which is the Egyptian hieroglyph of a bound prisoner, used in words for "rebel" and "enemy." Some other rulers were also captured by foreign enemies -- the Latin Emperor Baldwin I (by the Bulgarians), the Emperor of Thessalonica, Theodore Ducas (by the Bulgarians), and the Prince of Achaea, William II (although he was captured, not by a foreign enemy, but by the forces of Nicaea).

Valerian was kept prisoner and subject to various humiliations until executed. His skin was then flayed (unless he had been flayed alive), stuffed, and kept for later display to Roman emissaries. In any case, this is what we are told by later Romans, such as Lactantius, and questions have been raised about the reliability of these accounts, for which there is no contemporary or Persian evidence. Valerian, however, certainly never returned home.

Valerian's son Gallienus then endured one invasion and disaster after another, with the Empire actually beginning to break up. Nevertheless, Gallienus rebuilt the army and, excluding Senators from legionary commands, put in place the generals who, although his own murderers, conducted the reconstruction of the Empire. He thus now tends to get some credit, even with the apparent collapse around him.

Despite a short reign (and a natural death), Claudius II began to turn things around by defeating the Goths, commemorated with a column that still stands (but is rarely seen in history books) in İstanbul. His colleague Aurelian then substantially restores the Empire, only to suffer assassination, initiating a new round of revolving Emperors. This finally ended with Diocletian, who picked up reforming the Empire, militarily, politically, and religiously, where Aurelian had left off.

Amid all the other upheavals of this period, one that escapes the notice of popular culture, and often that of historians also, is how the Empire ceases to be a possession of the City of Rome. The political structure of the Roman State turns inside out, with the City becoming a backwater and the provinces and the frontiers becoming the centers of political life. We begin to get the phenomenon of Emperors who rarely, or never, even visit the City. They certainly do not live there.

The absence of Emperors from Rome interrupts one of our fixed images of what Rome was like. There would no longer always be an Emperor presiding over Games in the Colosseum. Was Philip the Arab even there for the celebration of the 1000th year of Rome in 248? I expect he was, considering the scale of the games he commissioned, but his presence was certainly becoming a little unusual.

A century later, in 348, when the 1,100 year anniversary of Rome was noted, there was no celebration and there were no festivities or games at Rome. The Emperor at the time, Constantius II, wasn't there. We do know that Constantius did visit Rome, once, in 353, but that was a little late for the anniversary. His neglect is then characteristic of the age.

But you can't make a movie about Rome without an Emperor judging whether the gladiators live or die. What we certainly have never seen in a movie is what happened in 402, when a Christian monk pushed in between fighting gladiators and was killed -- perhaps even stoned by the spectators.

This monk is remembered as St. Telemachus, and there are differing accounts about exactly what happened, or even when. One version we get now is that this happened during games in 401 that were put on by the one time Consul, the diehard pagan Quintus Aurelius Symmachus. However, this is modern speculation and is not attested in sources. Telemachus is also said to have done his intervention in 391, when Symmachus was actually Consul.

However, the early date seems unlikely considering the reaction of Honorius, off in Milan, since he was not yet Emperor in 391. And the reaction was then to prohibit gladiatorial combats, as Honorius had already closed the gladiatorial schools -- although animal fights and chariot races continued for many years, especially in Constantinople. Thus, not only was there no longer an Emperor in attendance at the Colosseum to rule on life or death, but there were no longer fights to the death between combatants at all. The Colosseum began to stand empty much of the time.

The reaction of historians is curious, something of the form "You're no fun anymore": If gladiators are no longer dying, then Rome is no longer Rome, even though, of course, we never approved of those bloody games in the first place. Yet, we cannot approve, either, of those Christians, such spoilsports, being the ones to stop cruel and fatal combats. It should have been socialists, or Gandhi, or something, doing it. Monks were also off killing Hypatia, so we know what they were like.

For the time being, the equivalent of an administrative Capital of the Empire simply moves with the military camps of the Emperors. Once things settle down a bit in the following years, we begin to see new seats for the Court(s) and new administrative centers, from Nicomedia and Milan, to Antioch and Trier, Sirmium and York -- each often called "Rome" while an Emperor was there -- all culminating in the founding of Constantinople, the fully New "Rome."

Yet it is rare to vanishing to see this profound truth of Roman history ever asserted in a public voice; and we usually find even the historically literate laboring under the impression that the fate of the Empire hangs on events in the City of Rome, right down to the day when the barbarians burst in on the Last Emperor in 476. Of course, as we shall see, nothing of the sort happened in 476, and in fact nothing of significance happened at all in the City of Rome during that year, even as it had already been a political backwater for a couple of centuries. If anybdy had broken in looking for an Emperor, they would have come up empty.

Not much in the way of dynasties in this period. Many Emperors, of course, wanted to associate their sons with them to arrange for their succession; but in the violent ends of most Emperors, the sons usually died with them. Gordian III, Gallienus, and Carinus are the principal exceptions, ruling in their own right after the death of fathers or, with Gordian, uncle and grandfather.

The invasions and political troubles of the Third Century shook the religious and philosophical certainties upon which Rome had previously thrived. Exotic religious cults, like Mithraism and Christianity, now began to exert wide appeal; and a profound shift occurred in philosophy. We no longer hear much of Stoics or Epicureans, but whole new perspectives and concerns are ushered in by the mystical Egyptian Plotinus, Πλωτῖνος (205-270 AD), who even enjoyed some Imperial patronage under Gordian III, Philip the Arab, and Gallienus. He makes the Second Sophistic look superficial indeed -- except that his works in Greek continued the trend of Greek literature dominating and replacing Latin.

With his return to the epistemology and metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle, Plotinus, as such the founder of Neoplatonism, picks up the mainstream of development of the Western philosophical tradition, which had somewhat detoured in the Hellenistic Period through revivals of Presocratic doctrine (Heraclitus for the Stoics, Atomism for the Epicureans). This prepared the inheritance that would pass to Mediaeval philosophy in ʾIslām. The tradition then, rationalistic with a touch of mysticism, produced a purified Aristotelianism that passed into Europe through Spain and Sicily. Meanwhile, Platonism and Neoplatonism themselves were treasured in Romania, to be passed into Italy during the Renaissance, especially after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Aristotle was fortified at the universities, but Platonism appealed more to the mathematicians, like Johannes Kepler, who were instrumental in formulating modern, mathematical science.

Plotinus's student, disciple, Boswell, and editor Porphyry, Πορφύριος (233-c.300), who first enjoyed patronage from Aurelian, promoted Neoplatonic principles, wrote an introduction to Aristotle's logical works, the Isagoge, Εἰσαγωγή, which became an indispensable text in the Middle Ages, and even began organizing the defense of traditional religion in his Against the Christians, whose arguments he gave in a presentation to the Emperor Diocletian, urging him to suppress the religion.

But the Neoplatonic version of traditional religion now looks much more of a piece with Christian sensibilities than with things like the peculiar and archaic practices examined by Frazer in The Golden Bough. Constantine would later order Against the Christians burned. The cultural and intellectual sea change of the period, soon followed by Diocletian's reforms and then Constantine, usher in the distinctive world of Late Antiquity. Classicists start to become nervous and irritable, sometimes betraying their hostility to Christianity.

The Empire of Palmyra -- Παλμύρα, now Arabic , Tadmur (تَدْمُر) -- had a very different origin and course from that in Gaul. Odaenath, the King of Palmyra, (c.260-266), was a Roman ally. After the capture of Valerian, he actually defeated and expelled the victorious Persians. This earned him Roman gratitude and titles, like Dux Romanorum. It also left him as the de facto ruler of the East. Odaenath was murdered and succeeded by his wife Zenobia, who then joins Cleopatra and Boudicca (Boadicea), if not Dido, in the ranks of the conspicuous and romantic female enemies of Rome.

This realm grew gradually, as Roman weakness and preoccupation in the troubles of the 3rd Century tempted Zenobia's ambition. When she moved into Egypt and Asia Minor in 269-270, trouble was definitely brewing, but it was her proclamation of her son Vaballathus as Emperor that brought Aurelian out against her. She was exhibited in Aurelian's Triumph but then allowed to live out her life on a pension in Rome. Other sources seem to imply a darker fate for her. Palmyra became a Roman outpost.

Palmyra's ruins have been extensive, beautiful, and evocative, out in the emptiness of the Syrian desert, next to the Oasis and the small modern city (which used to be in the ruins, until the government built a new town and moved the people there).

The Oasis gave the city its importance as an essential link in the caravan short-cut across the desert from Mesopotamia to Syria. Nevertheless, this was not enough water for the desires of the city. As elsewhere in desert cities, like Petra, the Palmyrenes arranged to catch rain water in mountain cisterns and behind dams, which was then channeled through aqueducts to fountains in the city down below. The mountains were more distant and so the aqueducts were longer than at Petra, which was in the midst of mountains itself.

The columns on the central avenue of the city all contained plinths to hold statues. Although the statues are long gone, the columns themselves hold inscriptions, in both Greek and Palmyrene Aramaic, that inform us who they were of, not gods, but local dignitaries, including Zenobia herself. Even greater enemies of Rome have far less to show for themselves today.

Palmyra has now entered recent history in the ugliest way. In 2015, the savage forces of the "Islamic State" (ISIS or ISIL) captured the town from the Syrian government. They executed the lead archaeologist of the site along with dozens of other people, apparently including women and children. And, like their previous criminal actions in Iraq, following the precedent of the Tālibān in Afghanistan, they began to destroy ancient buildings, particularly temples.

The impressive ruin of the Temple of Bēl, which stands by the road into both the ancient and the modern town, is shown in the photographs above and below right. Its walls were all but intact. Above the recessed altar was a beautiful roseate ceiling. A stair within the walls led up to the top, affording an impressive view of the area.

But the (literally) bloody fanatics of ISIS blew up the building and reduced it to rubble, so that nothing, apart from the entrance pylon, remains -- at left. This was a United Nations World Heritage Site, and one of the most evocative jewels of ancient history. It tells us who these people, invoking ʾIslām, really are. To be sure, their eagerness to cut the heads off civilian hostages, on camera, stamps them as evil in a way whose like may not have been seen since Auschwitz, but their contempt for the past, for history, for art, and for beauty staggers the mind in a unique way. They are openly proud of it, as even the Nazis never were for their crimes, which they tried to conceal. This should be of concern to all Muslims, as an insult to ʾIslām; but the Muslim community has seemed relatively complacent about it.

Having visited Palmyra twice in 1970, my photographs are now perhaps significant historical records -- in a tradition going back to the Ruins of Palmyra, a survey by Robert Wood published in 1753. Since my photographs are all slides, they will need to be converted to digital format. I have begun to do this. Colors have often changed in the slides over the years, especially since I was using more than one kind of film. The two initial images above and the ones at right and below are from 1970. Only the image of the destroyed temple is recent.

The image at left is from the top of the walls of the Temple of Bēl. Visible on the wall at the right are two friends from the University of California group at the American University of Beirut that year. The difficulty of picking out the figures on the temple gives a sense of its scale. Also, we can see how robust is the stonework. To reduce this building to rubble, ISIS needed to use a lot of explosives. A testament to their malice.

By the gate is Alan Campbell, and on the wall behind him, wearing a white kūfiyyah, (كُوفِيَّة), is Dennis Anderson.

All of us were over six feet tall; and Dennis had very blond hair. This made him an object of intense curiosity from all the children wherever we went in Syria, so he began wearing the kūfiyyah to hide his hair. This worked. Later, traveling in Turkey, with hair long enough that it could have marked me as a hippie -- in Arabic a "beetle," , khunfus (خُنْفُس), but which we heard as khamfus in Beirut -- and become an object of vocal derision and perhaps even violence, I benefited from the same trick and actually drew no attention whatsoever for wearing an Arab headdress, which I wore draped as shown. The wisdom of this I saw in Turkey, where a whole bus load of passengers jeered at European or American backpackers standing by the roadside at a bus stop, while I, on the bus, was ignored.

It is extraordinary to now have vandalism of the city by people who seem to actually hate the past, even while they vainly hope that a revived ʾIslām will give them the power that the Islamic world has otherwise been unable to achieve through conventional political and economic means. Or they may actually want nothing more than death and destruction, if this serves to bring on the Apocalypse. In those terms, they may have no positive goals at all [note].

Rome and Romania Index

Era of Diocletian 1-327, 326 years

Thus Constantine, an emperor and son of an emperor, a religious man and son of a most religious man, most prudent in every way, as stated above -- and Licinius the next in rank, both of them honoured for their wise and religious outlook, two men dear to God -- were roused by the King of kings, God of the universe, and Saviour against the two most irreligious tyrants and declared war on them. God came to their aid in a most marvellous way, so that at Rome Maxentius fell at the hands of Constantine, and the ruler of the East [i.e. Maximinus Daia] survived him only a short time and himself came to a most shameful end at the hands of Licinius, who at that time was still sane.

Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-c.339), The History of the Church [translated by G.A. Williamson, Penguin Books, 1965, p.368]

The Donation of Constantine, 1247, San Silvestro Chapel at Santi Quattro Coronati, Rome
L'altro che segue, con le leggi e meco,
  sotto buona intenzion che fé mal frutto,
  per cedre al pastor si fece greco:
The next who follows, with the laws and me,
with a good intention which bore bad fruit,
made himself Greek, to cede [the West] to the Pastor.
ora conosce come il mal dedutto
  dal suo bene operar non li è nocivo,
  avvegna che sia 'l mondo indi distrutto.
Now he knows how the evil derived
from his good action does not harm him,
though the world should be destroyed thereby.

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, XX:55-60 [Charles S. Singleton, Princeton, Bollingen, 1975, pp.224-225, translation modified], speaking of Constantine in the Heaven of Jupiter and of the "Donation of Constantine" (Constitutum Donatio Constantini) to the Pope -- a document later exposed (1440) by Lorenzo Valla (c.1407-1457) as a forgery, since its language was Mediaeval Latin, not that of Constantine's 4th century. It had previously been exposed by Macarius, Metropolitan of Ancyra (1397–1405), whose anti-Latin polemics, however, were not known in the West.

Ῥώμη παμβασίλεια, τὸ σὸν κλέος ὄυποτ᾽ ὀλεῖται·
Νίκη γάρ σε φυγεῖν ἄπτερος οὐ δύναται.

Rome, queen of the world, thy fame shall never perish,
for Victory, being wingless, cannot fly from thee.

Anonymous, "On [New] Rome," [The Greek Anthology, Volume III, Book 9, "The Declamatory Epigrams," Number 647, The Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1917, p.358-359]

The "Second Empire" is a period of transformation whose beginning and end seem worlds apart. Even at the beginning, however, Classicists find themselves becoming uncomfortable, in large part because they are now rubbing shoulders with Byzantinists, Mediaevalists, and, worse, historians of religion and, gasp, even of the Church. In the Middle Ages, this was regarded as a triumphant period, when the Roman Empire was redeemed and ennobled with its conversion to and transformation by Christianity -- becoming a "Romania" whose name is now not even familiar as the name of the Roman Empire.

In Modern thought, this construction tends to be reversed, with the superstition and dogmatism of Christianity dragging the Classical World down into the Dark Ages. At the same time, however, there is still a strong attraction to the idea of blaming the collapse of the Empire on the characteristics of pagan Roman society -- slavery, the Games, sexual license, corruption, etc. Since this is more or less the Christian critique of pagan society, we have the curious case of critics maintaining the perspective of Christian moralism even while rejecting Christianity as the appropriate response.

This not entirely coherent approach also results in the doublethink of moral satisfaction with the "fall" of the (Western) Empire in 476 while carefully ignoring the survival and resurgence of the Empire in the East. The truth, as it happens, is one of continuity. The very same institutions, both Roman and Christian in sum and detail, that failed in the West in the face of the German threat, did just fine in the East, long outlasting, and in two dramatic cases defeating, the German successor kingdoms. Nevertheless, these were hard times, and worse lay ahead. What neither Trajan nor Constantine nor Justinian could have anticipated were the blows that would fall next.

The confusion about his period means it is a kind of Rorschach test of historical biases. If the "Roman Empire" fell in 476, who were these people running around afterwards calling themselves "Romans"? Where did they get that? Can't somebody shut them up? Well, it is a little late for that. At least we know that what came afterwards was this ugly and stupid thing, "Byzantium," that no one takes seriously. Indeed, there are writers with published books who don't even remember that it existed.

Or the whole business can be reconceived. The Later Roman Empire, 284-602 by A.H.M. Jones [The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986] encompasses all of the "Second Empire" in this treatment, minus Phocas. Peter Brown treated the same period as something like a distinct civilization in The World of Late Antiquity, 150-750 [HBJ, 1971], expanding the boundaries a bit. Classicists didn't like most of that period anyway, but some Byzantinists felt like some centuries were being stolen from them. But the insult was more to Classicists than it was to Byzantanists. The latter were not the ones who often reduced the 4th century to a few pages in their books, stumbling in their haste to be done with it.

Of course, if we still end Ancient History in 476, this at least introduces a kind of speed bump into the period. But if the Goths began the Fall of the West at Adrianople, it is a little difficult not to finish the story with Justinian wiping out the Ostrogoths, and then the Arabs the Visigoths. So, the Goths appearing in history and then later disappearing looks like a good unified story. That the end of the Ostrogoths meant the recovery of Rome by the Romans sounds like a worthy story in its own right. It rarely gets told from beginning to end, with the pieces traditionally held in the hands of different scholars, in different disciplines. They might not even be in the same academic departments. From the Olympian heights of Classics, Classicists may deign to notice Adrianople, perhaps with contempt. But the name of Belisarius may go unheard among them, unless they watch the TV show NCIS. "Who is that guy?" they might say, noticing the producer's vanity card. But "Belisarius Productions" would have a special meaning for the Vandals and Ostrogoths.

Rome and Romania Index

A. "DOMINATE," 284-379, 95 years


C. Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus
Augustus 284-305, 286-305 Eastretired 305, died 311 or 313
Vincenalia, 20 year Jubilee, in Rome, only visit to City, seats at Circus collapse, 13,000 killed, populace hostile, 303
M. Aurelius Valerius Maximianus
Augustus 286-305 WestUsurper 306-308, 310 West
Constantius I Chlorus
Fl. Valerius Constantius
Caesar 293-305 WestAugustus 305-306 West
C. Galerius Valerius Maximianus
Caesar 293-305 EastAugustus 305-311 East
Maximinus II Daia
Galerius Valerius Maximinus
Caesar 305-309 EastAugustus 309-313 East
Fl. Valerius Severus
Caesar 305-306 WestAugustus 306-307 West
St. Constantine I the Great

Fl. Valerius Constantinus
Caesar 306-307 West, 308-309 WestAugustus 307-308 West, 309-337 West, 324-337 East
M. Aurelius Valerius Maxentius]
Usurper 306-312, Italy
Conference at Carnuntum, Diocletian offered Throne, declines, appointment of Licinius, 308
Valerius Licinianus Licinius
Augustus 308-324 East
[Domitius Alexander]Usurper 308-311, Africa
Intrinsically one of the most interesting and important periods in Roman history, the Tetrarchy unfortunately suffers from the relative poverty of the sources we have for it. Despite the rich literature of the 4th century, Diocletian never got a Tacitus or Suetonius, and what Ammianus Marcellinus may have said about him is now lost.

Part of this may be because history moved so quickly after Diocletian. He could still have been alive when Constantine legalized Christianity, and it was, of course, Constantine whom subsequent Christian writers wanted to glorify. But Diocletian created a system that was the closest to a constitutional order than Rome ever had. Its enemy was hereditary succession, which had triumphed in Constantine, if imperfectly, by the end of the period. So here, not just in religion, we have a turning point.

The succession by appointment, adoption, or marriage of the Antonines is now seen for very nearly the last time. The complexity of this, and of events, can be seen, not just in the following genealogy, but in the Chart of the Tetrarchy.

As the first Emperor with a very clearly Greek name -- Διοκλῆς, Dioclēs, before being Latinized to Diocletianus (although we shouldn't forget the Greek name of Philip the Arab and his son) -- Diocletian foreshadows the later Greek character of the Empire. It is also from this point that the status of the Emperor is elevated far beyond that of a mere official to a being with semi-divine status, altering the form of government from the "Principate" to "Dominate," from Dominus, "Lord." The Roman Court now begins to adopt the structures and ritual of the Persian Court, where the Great King has always been semi-divine.

The symbolic accouterments of the Emperor, like the Purple (Porphyrius) robe and red shoes, become fixed until the Fall of Constantinople. The fiction that the Emperor is actually a kind of Republican official is now gone -- although the ultimate executive offices of the Republic, the Consulates, survive until Justinian. The Emperor is a Monarch in form and substance. This elevation was simply transformed, not rolled back or abolished, by the Christianization of the office. Yet, although Emperors always aimed for hereditary succession, that was never formally recognized in Roman law.

In a sense, Emperors were elected, and they were only legitimized by acclamation, ἀκτολογία, aktología, or εὐφημία, euphemía (cf. "euphemism"), either by the People or by the functional equivalent, the Army. This was the only formal basis of legitimacy, and it could be, and was, often withdrawn.

Christian Emperors, beginning with Constantine, would always be portrayed with halos, like saints, and were called the "Equal to the Apostles." This might help secure the status of an Emperor; but, from the frequency of rebellion or popular revolt, its effectiveness seems to have been limited. Sufficiently provoked, the people of Constantinople could express the oppositite of acclamation, namely disapprobation, δυσφημία, dysphemía, and condemn an Emperor as ἀνάξιος, anáxios, "unworthy!"

The frequency with which Emperors were deposed, or new dynasties enthroned, was in stark contrast to Western Europe, where popular revolt deposed no rulers until Modern times, and dynastic succession might continue for centuries. Modern historians and political philosophers have been of two minds about this. If the people of Constantinople were simply a wild mob, then Roman politics were chaotic and anarchic. But these have often been the same pundits with no love for absolute monarchy, who then turn around and condemn Mediaeval Constantinople for featuring a particularly irresponsible form of absolute monarchy. They need to get their story straight. We must say that an aroused populace whose battle cry is ἀνάξιος certainly has the right idea. Modern voters express this sentiment far too infrequently, despite frequent evidence of corrupt and mendacious politicians.

European monarchs never went so far as to adopt the iconography or ideology of saints. It doesn't look like they even needed to. On the other hand, the Popes did. They later began wearing the red shoes of the Emperors, commensurate with inflated claims of Papal authority, not just in spiritual matters, but over secular power also. That didn't work out very well for them,
Diocletian and the Tetrarchs, Corner of St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice, 2019; odd foot remained in Constantinople, found in situ
and recent Popes have actually been dispensing with the red shoes. They have not, however, renounced the level of authority that they usurped from Church Councils. Under Canon Law, the Popes are still absolute monarchs.

At right is an extraordinary group in porphyry of the Tetrarchs. This was looted from Constantinople in 1204 and placed at a corner of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. Its origin was subsequently forgotten, and Peter Brown says it "was long mistaken for Christian crusaders, and even worshipped as statues of St. George!" [The World of Late Antiquity 150-750, HBJ, 1971, p.22].

Where the statues came from was recently proven when the foot that is obviously missing from the figure on the right was discovered in situ in İstanbul, before the Bodrum Camii (Jami-i, "its mosque"), previously the Myrelaion Church, Ἐκκλησία τοῦ Μυρελαίου, in the original Philadelphion, Φιλαδέλφιον, Square [cf. Constantine, Roman Emperor, Christian Victor, by Paul Stephenson, The Overlook Press, New York, 2010, p.199]. The "Brotherly Love" probably refers to the relationship of the Tetrarchs, but there is also a tradition that there was a statue commemorating the rule of the three sons of Constantine I, with the idea that they had a reunion here, which they didn't. There is a nice touch in the portrayals, that the Augusti have beards but the Caesares do not.

In 305 Diocletian actually retired from office, going to live at his retirement villa (more like city) at Spalatum (Greek Ἀσπάλαθος, Croatian Split, or Spljet) near Salonae (Greek Σαλώνα, Croatian Solin) in Dalmatia (now Croatia) -- see J.J. Wilkes, Diocletian's Palace, Split:  Residence of a Retired Roman Emperor [Oxbow Books, Oxford, 1986, 1993]. This may have been at the urging of Galerius, who was eager for full power, and was taken with ill grace by Maximian, who tried to return to power twice and was finally killed (by Constantine).

Diocletian's Cabbages

Diocletian's joy at his retirement, and the famous celebration of his cabbages, I discuss elsewhere as a paradigm of Epicureanism. Although Constantius Chlorus became the senior Augustus, both of the new Caesares are appointed by Galerius from among his own supporters. This was improper and involved passing over the competent sons of Constantius and Maximian (Constantine and Maxentius), apparently because Galerius didn't like either of them. It is hard to know why Constantius consented to these proceedings, and they proved to be the source of fatal conflict in the Tetrarchy.

As it happened, Constantius died, and Constantine was presented by his troops as an Emperor fait accompli. Maxentius then revolted, dragged his father into it, and then at least co-opted Constantine to this development. By 308, Severus had been captured and killed moving against Maxentius, and Galerius had also failed to unseat him.

Galerius then called a conference at Carnuntum on the Danube in Upper (Superior) Pannonia, just down the river from Vindobona, modern Vienna (Wien) -- where, we have seen, Marcus Aurelius died. This is close to the border with Slovakia, where we immediately find Bratislava, the capital.

Carnuntum is now the Römerstadt "Archaeological Park Carnuntum." Vienna has an archaeological museum, with foundations of the Roman military camp exposed in the basement. At Carnuntum, this kind of thing is now the whole site, with some reconstructed buildings.

Diocletian was invited to the meeting was even offered the throne, but he declined it -- saying he would rather grow vegetables -- specifically his cabbages. This extraordinary forbearance on the part of Diocletian, especially his obvious determination to "cultivate his garden," ought to have made him a saint to Epicureans, especially later, modern ones. Curiously, it did not. Thus, Diocletian seems to have the approval of neither Christians nor non-Christians. Possibly, secularists dislike him for the forms of the Dominate that prepared the way for the later Christian Monarchy. No historian, ancient or modern, has found in Diocletian a particular hero. His job in restructuring the Empire would be overshadowed by Constantine; and anyone hostile to Constantine's Christianity might find the authoritarianism and price fixing of Diocletian off-putting.

The result of the conference was the demotion of Constantine to Caesar (again), the appointment of Licinius as Augustus, the second retirement of Maximian, and the condemnation of Maxentius as an outlaw. The appointment of Licinius, who had never been a Caesar, was again an improper proceeding and reflected the custom of Galerius to use his own supporters, despite the implicit rules governing succession in the Tetrarchy. Constantine and Maximinus Daia were soon calling themselves Augusti anyway, and so the Tetarchy became a system of four equals, with Galerius preserving some precedence until his death.

A noteworthy act at the conference at Carnuntum was the dedication of an altar to the god Mithras, as the fautor imperii, "protector of the Empire."
Foundation of a Mithraeum, City of London, reconstructed on Queen Victoria Street, 2005; after 2010, the Mithaeum was restored to its original site on Walbrook, in a basement exhibition space of the Bloomberg European headquarters, seven meters below the modern street level, joined to remains left from the original 1954 discovery and excavation.
Mithraism considered Mithras to be a sun god, associated and assimilated with Sol Invictus, the "Unconquered Sun," whose cult existed independently of Mithras and had been promoted since Aurelian.

Mithraism, although popular in the Army (only men were initiated), was not an Imperial or prestige cult, until this dedication, Deo Soli Invicto Mithrae, "to the god Mithras the Unconquered Sun." We might see this as one of the last acts in the development of state paganism, before Constantine becomes a patron of Christianity and gods like Mithras disappear.

Licinius was the presumptive Augustus of the West, but he never moved toward Italy or made any attempt to overthrow Maxentius. This was left for Constantine.

Meanwhile, Maxentius had whipped up enthusiasm at Rome with the promise that, after a century, he would return the seat of Government there and would restore the withering Praetorian Guard to its status and privileges as the Life Guard of the Emperor. Enthusiasm faded, however, as Maxentius' status as a rebel isolated Italy and compelled him to raise taxes -- the City had treasured, as we might imagine, its tax exempt status. So Constantine was not unwelcome when Maxentius was defeated and killed.

Constantine did, indeed, pay a bit more attention to Rome than the previous Tetrarchs; but then it would be Constantine (after Licinius had killed Maximinus Daia, and Constantine Licinius) who would found an entirely new Capital for the Empire at Constantinople. After 312, Constantine would never return to Rome, and the City itself itself would never be restored to its previous position. Italy would continue to be ruled, as under Maximian, from Milan (and then Ravenna) [note].

Price Fixing & Bureaucrats

One of the most famous aspects of Diocletian's rule is the infamous "Edict on Maximum Prices" of 301 AD, which fixed prices of many basic commodities. Since Diocletian himself explains the law as needed to prevent some from profiteering off of the basic needs of others, this is turns out to be relevant to many modern debates. The "greed" of those who make a profit while prices rise is still a point of useful political appeal for many politicians and leftist activists -- who never understand that fixing prices below a market clearing price always results in shortages of the commodity -- as with the lines at gas stations under Jimmy Carter. It looks, however, like prices, especially agricultural prices, were rising under Diocletian because the tax burden had become so large that many people simply abandoned their farms -- Diocletian also tried forbidding this.

Since Diocletian himself was not a sympathetic person to Christian writers, the charge of "greed" tends to get turned around, as the contemporary writer Lactantius, appointed by Diocletian himself as a professor of Latin literature in Nicomedia, the capital, says, "...Diocletian with his insatiable greed..." Lactantius' account of bureaucratic excess and behavior could apply in many modern situations:

The number of recipients began to exceed the number of contributors by so much that, with farmers' resources exhausted by the enormous size of the requisitions, fields became deserted and cultivated land was turned into forest. To ensure that terror was universal, provinces too were cut into fragments; many governors and even more officials were imposed on individual regions, almost on individual cities, and to these were added numerous accountants, controllers and prefects' deputies. The activities of all these people were very rarely civil... [J.J. Wilkes, Diocletian's Palace, Split:  Residence of a Retired Roman Emperor, op. cit., p.5]

Not only now are there whole countries where the dependent classes exceed the numbers of the productive classes (e.g. Italy or France), but in the United States the fate of the Social Security system will probably be sealed when the number of beneficiaries exceeds the number of contributors.

These modern systems, although voted in by popular majorities who like "free lunch" welfare politics, are run by bureaucrats whose behavior, of course, is "very rarely civil" either to contributors or beneficiaries. And modern bureaucrats are protected from accountability by "Civil Service" status and their own politically active and powerful public employee labor unions.

While much public comment focuses on the attitudes of the United States Postal Service, I have generally found post office employees friendly and helpful. On the other hand, I have found the Social Security Administration unfriendly to hostile. Their offices look like some banks, with armed guards and agents behind thick glass, as though they are handing out money (which they aren't), but with waiting times much longer than at banks, while the agents themselves, in my experience, have been rude, unfriendly, and unhelpful, gleefully enforcing irrational, Catch 22-like regulations -- in Canada now, at least they offer assisted suicide. These are the "benefits" we gain from a lifetime of involuntary "contributions."

Yet politicians rarely characterize or criticize government agents and employees for their own self-interest or greed, although this phenomenon is now well understood and described in Public Choice economics. While the behavior of the bureaucrats is understandable, the harshest truth is that, with sovereignty no longer invested in a autocrat like Diocletian, the ultimate "greed" today is derived from the voters -- who sell their birthright for a "mess of pottage" -- נְזִיד עֲדָשִׁים, ἕψεμα φακοῦ, lentis edūliō [Genesis 25:34].

The map reflects some recent developments in scholarship. Previously, the Goths were regarded as already divided into the Visigoths and Ostrogoths, with the Ostrogoths developing an "empire" that was thought to have stretched all the way back to the Baltic Sea. This culminated under King Ermanaric (i.e. "King [riks] Herman," where "Herman" itself is from [h]er[i], "army," and man, "man"), who committed suicide when defeated and subjugated by the Huns around 370.

Now it looks like, for all their divisions, the Goths were not divided, or identified, in the terms that later became familiar for the Kingdoms in Spain and Italy. Ermanaric was King of the Greuthungi, and it is unlikely that he ruled a domain that stretched to the Baltic. Indeed, it doesn't even look like it even reached the Don in the east. The Goths who were granted asylum on Roman territory in 376 were the Tervingi, led by Alavivus and Fritigern. After their revolt, however, the Greuthungi joined the Tervingi. With some other Gothic groups, these all became the Visigoths.

The Ostrogoths developed later, around a core led by the Amal dynasty. These changes in view are now recently explained by Peter Heather in The Fall of the Roman Empire [Oxford, 2006]. Although the Huns subjugated all the Goths but the Visigoths, the Goths nevertheless exercised considerable cultural influence on them. Thus, we find Attila with a Gothic name, "Little Father." But while atta was the Gothic word for "father," it is curious that ata is still the Turkish word for "father." Indeed, adda was Sumerian for "father."

Winfred P. Lehmann explains these correspondences as a coincidence of "nursery words": "No need to assume borrowing in spite of earlier attestations, such as Hitt[ite] attas, which Puhvel [Hittite etymological dictionary, 1984] derives 'from infantile language'" [A Gothic Etymological Dictionary, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1986, p.46]. This strikes me as totally speculative and more than a bit unsatisfactory, though perhaps no more than the alternative:  that this is another fragment of evidence for a connection between Indo-European and Altaic languages, and Sumerian.

Constantius I Chlorus

Fl. Valerius Constantius
293-306 W
St. Constantine I the Great

Fl. Valerius Constantinus
306-337 W+E
Christianity legalized, Edict of Milan, 313; Council of Arles, Donatists condemned, 314; Ecumenical Council I, Nicaea I, Nicene Creed, 325; Vicennalia, 20 year Jubilee, at Rome, Crispus & Flavia executed, 326; Constantinople, Roma Nova, founded, construction begun, 4 November 328; Constantinople dedicated, 11 May 330; Ulfilas consecrated Bishop to the Goths, 336
Constantine II
Fl. Claudius Contantinus
337-340 W
Constans I

Fl. Julius Constans
337-350 W
Fl. Magnus Magnentius]
350-353 W
Constantius II
Fl. Julius Constantius
337-361 E+W
Altar of Victory removed from Roman Senate, 357; Amida on the Tigris falls to Persians, 359
Fl. Claudius Constantius Gallus
351-354 E, Caesar
Julian the Apostate

Fl. Claudius Julianus
355-360 W, Caesar; 360-363, Augustus
Last Pagan Emperor; Restores Altar of Victory to Roman Senate; killed while invading Persia, 363
Fl. Jovianus
If the Tetrarchy was a major turning point in Roman history, with Constantine we are right around the corner and looking down a very different avenue of time. Here is where the die-hard paganophile Romanists check out, and where the Byzantinists check in. But the changes that take place are mostly, as they had been for some time, gradual.

Even Constantine's Christianity was a gradual affair. He did not actually convert until on his deathbed; and although he outlawed pagan sacrifice, he did not close the temples or otherwise show disrespect or hostility to the old gods, and in fact seems to have long still invoked Sol Invictus, the "Unconquered Sun" of Aurelian and Diocletian. He may have imagined a sort of syncretism such as had been common in the old religions but that was not going to be tolerated in Christianity -- indeed, an element of syncretism remains in the name of the Holy Day of the week for Christianity, "Sunday," which Constantine himself called "the day celebrated by veneration of the sun itself" (diem solis veneratione sui celebrem).

Even if Constantine banned blood sacrifice (it is not clear that he did, but is often said to have), this reformed a practice of worship whose critique went back at least to Heraclitus, who marveled how spilled blood, otherwise polluting, could be thought clean and sacred.

When Constantinople was built, the old acropolis was left alone. Indeed, it may have been left alone for much of the Middle Ages -- I am only aware of a couple of Mediaeval institutions in the area. One was the Church and Monastery of St. George of Mangana, which had a hospital attached. Another was a complex built by Alexius Comnenus with an orphanage and a home for old soldiers, the blind, and other disabled persons. It sounds like there was room for Alexius to build these institutions.

It is now hard to tell what may have been on the acropolis all that time because the site was finally put to a new use by the Ottomans, who built the great Topkapı Palace there. It is certainly the right place for such a building, and so one is a little surprised to learn that no secular building, as far as we know, was put there all the years of Romania.

In the Eighth century there is a reference to the Kynegion, Κυνήγιον, an arena that survived from earlier Roman animal fighting shows. The comment in the Brief Historical Notes is that the ancient pagan statues in the arena still contain dangerous powers. A statue is supposed to have deliberately fallen on and killed a man named Himerios in the reign of Philippicus Bardanes [cf. Judith Herrin, Byzantium, The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire, Princeton & Oxford, 2007, p.123]. The astonishing thing is that any such statues should still have been there almost four hundred years after Constantine.

In the same way, a statue of Athena is supposed to have still been standing on the acropolis when the Fourth Crusade arrived in 1203. Remarkably, this may have been the bronze statute of Athena Promachus, Ἀθηνᾶ/Ἀθήνη Πρόμαχος, which had stood in the open on the Acropolis at Athens, reportedly visible from out to sea, and was moved to the new city by Constantine.
Mosaic Floor, Great Palace, Constantinople; Eagle fighting with snake, as said to have been witnessed by Constantine at the founding of the City -- reminiscent of the legend of the Aztec arrival in the Valley of Mexico
Anthony Kaldellis denies this, but without explanation [The Christian Parthenon, Cambridge, 2009, p.106]. Other accounts are that the statue, about 30 feet tall, had been placed, not on the acropolis, but in the Forum of Constantine, with many other statues that we know of [Bettany Hughes, Istanbul, A Tale of Three Cities, Da Capo Press, 2017, p.163]. I have had trouble finding the primary sources for these conflicting accounts.

The conflicts continue about the fate of the statue. On one account, with the statue on the acropolis, it was finally only thrown down because some thought that, from its visible position, Athena by her outstretched hand was beckoning to the Crusaders. For the version with the Forum of Constantine, there is also more than one version. Again, we hear (from Bettany Hughes) that the statue seemed to be welcoming the Crusaders and was torn down by Constantinopolitan citizens. However, a statue in the Forum would not have been visible to Crusaders unless they were already in the City. Alternatively, it is supposed to have been vandalized by the Crusaders themselves, apparently after the restoration of Isaac II in 1203 but before his overthrow and the seizure and looting of the City. Why and how supposedly drunken Crusaders could go after anything of the sort is more than a bit mysterious, and unlikely; but on such an occasion, at least the statue would be visible to Crusaders already in the City.

Χριστιανοὶ γεγαῶτες Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχοντες ἐνθάδε ναιετάουσιν ἀπήμονες· οὐδὲ γὰρ αὐτοὺς χώνη φόλλιν ἄγουσα φερέσβιον ἐν πυρὶ θήσει.

Having become Christians, the inhabitants of Olympus live here undisturbed; for here they shall not be put on the fire in the melting-pot that produces necessary small change.

Palladas of Alexandria, Παλλαδᾶς ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς, The Greek Anthology, Volume III, Book IX, Epigram 528, translated by W.R. Paton, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard Univesity Press, 1917, p.223; translation modified; about statuary in "the House of Marina," but applicable to all the statuary in Constantinople; for small coinage, see here.

The impression is of much other Classical statuary in Constantinople. This is confirmed in a remarkable text, the Patria of Constantinople, according to Hesychios Illoustrios, from the 10th century, which details much in the way of the buildings, statues, and lore of Constantinople [Accounts of Medieval Constantinople, the Patria, translated by Albrecht Berger, Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard, 2013]. We learn from the Patria that a statue of Hera stood in the Forum of Constantine [p.51], and this is confirmed quite by accident. The matter comes up because the Latin Emperors pulled it down to melt it for the bronze. The source of our information, the contemporary historian Niketas Choniates, consequently called the Franks "these barbarians, haters of the beautiful." But they were just desperate for money, and they treated much other art the same way, even looting the metal roofs from many buildings.

Unfortunately, when the Emperor Constans II had visited Rome in 663, also needing money, he stripped the bronze roof and ornaments from the Pantheon and other buildings, unintentionally creating the precedent for the Crusaders! But it turns out that Constans didn't take all the bronze from the Pantheon. Later, looking for bronze to make the altar canopy, the baldacchino, for St. Peter's Basilica, the great sculptor Gian Lorzenzo Bernini was given permission by Pope Urban VIII to "strip the ancient bronze cladding from the portico" of the Pantheon [Robert Hughes, Rome, A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History, Vintage, 2012, p.285]. So Constans had left some.

Earlier, we get a similar revealing reference. Arethas of Patras, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia in the late 9th century (d.c.932), noted in the margin of his copy of the orations of Aristides (which we possess) that an ivory statue of Athena, mentioned by Aristides, must be the one still standing in the Forum of Constantine (like the statue of Hera) by the entrance to the Senate [cf. the Patria, p.51]. This reference both confirms the existence of an Athena in the Forum but also means that it cannot have been Athena Promachus, which was bronze, not ivory. Arethas adds that across the Forum from this statue is one of Thetis, with crabs decorating her hair [N.G. Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium, Duckworth, 1983, 1996, p.124 -- there is no reference to Thetis in the Patria]. We have no clue about the subsequent fate of most of these statues.

Even the beginning of Constantine's attachment to Christianity is obscure. The story that he saw a vision of the Cross in the sky with the inscription In Hōc Vinces ("By this [sign, signō] Conquer" -- Greek ἐν τούτῳ νίκα) before (or during) the battle of the Milvian Bridge, when he defeated Maxentius in 312, comes very much later in hagiography (in the biography by Eusebius). The earliest mention of anything of the sort, by Lactantius again, is that Constantine had a dream where he was shown the "cypher of Christ," the Greek letters Chi and Rho, which he caused to be put on the shields of his soldiers. Later versions thus increase the dramatic and miraculous elements of the event, using what later would become the most symbolic of Christianity, the Cross. Using a Christian symbol in any form, however, and for any reason, would have been dramatic enough.

What Constantine was like as a person and what his motives were in favoring Christianity is now a matter influenced more by modern debates than by the historical record.
The Arch of Constantine,
Forum Romanum, Rome, 2019
In this, the evaluation of Constantine is much like that of the Egyptian "heretic" King
Akhenaton, about whose real personality there is little historical information. Was Akhenaton a mystical dreamer? A fanatic? An earnest reformer? A cynical manipulator? Similar questions can be asked about Constantine.

Especially noteworthy are projections of Protestant anticlericalism back onto Akhenaton (good -- attacking the power of the priests of Amon) or Constantine (bad -- creating the power of Catholic priesthood!). Less strictly Protestant, but its ideological successor, is the New Age naturalism and rationalism that favors the Gnostics as true and proper Christians and views Constantine as an oppressor who built his oppressive patriarchal, supernaturalistic, and clericalist ideology into the structure of the Catholic Church. This leads off into farcical conspiracy theories such as we see in The Da Vinci Code [2003], where little effort is expended on historical accuracy.

In general, Mediaeval and Modern evaluations of Constantine are going to be broadly different. In the Middle Ages, Constantine, the initial great protector and patron of Christianity, was seen as one of the best of rulers, noble, good, wise, and pious. That he was made a Saint in the Eastern Church but not in the Western may have been due to a few too many murders in his resumé (his son Crispus, his wife Fausta, and his brother-in-law and co-ruler Licinius, who had been granted protection after his surrender) -- or to Papal disinclination to honor the founder of Constantinople, the seat of the Pope's Patriarchal rival.
Devotional image for the Feast of Sts. Constantine and Helena, Equal to the Apostles, May 21st; Mediaeval dress.

Nevertheless, we find Dante placing Constantine in favored glory in Heaven (The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, XX:55-60). His main complaint was that Constantine had made the Pope ruler of the Western Empire -- according to the fraudulent "Donation of Constantine " (Constitutum Donatio Constantini), a text used by the Papacy to bolster its claims to secular authority until exposed (1440) by Lorenzo Valla (c.1407-1457) as a forgery. Modern evaluations, in turn, may reflect the noted Protestant hostility towards the Catholic Church or the rationalistic critique of religion, and especially of its supernatural aspects, dating from the Enlightenment. Now it is just Nihilism.

The modern perspectives provided little reason to view Constantine either with admiration or even compacency, with the potential for real hostility to emerge. Thus, a recent British television series on Roman history dramatized Constantine in terms borrowed from the Godfather movies [1972, 1974, 1990]. As we see Constantine piously reading to the Ecumenical Council at Nicaea the new Creed (the Nicene) formulated there -- which he could not have done, since the Creed was in Greek, and Constantine only spoke Latin -- his men are off, in the best tradition of the Corleones, murdering Licinius (as they later would Licinius' young son, Constantine's own nephew). This seems to involve the judgment that Constantine was essentially a gangster, to whom religion was really no more than a cynical device in power politics.
Ephesos Museum, Vienna

But before we get all weepy about Licinius, we should remember that in a bit of housecleaning he had murdered not only the wife, eight-year-old son, and seven-year-old daughter of Maximinus Daia, but also the widow, Prisca, of Diocletian, Valeria, the daughter of Diocletian and widow of Galerius (who, on his deathbed, had entrusted his old friend Licinius with her protection), her adopted son, and, just to be sure, the son of the hapless and probably otherwise forgotten Caesar and Augustus Severus.

If Constantine executed this man, we might not exactly want to congratulate him, but we certainly cannot see Constantine's behavior as any worse. If Constantine was at all like the Corleones, this is no more than the way the Tetarchy worked, as least in its final stages. Right from the beginning, however, when Constantine, inspired by Christianity, finds success in battle, the principle has more to do with the ideology of Sol Invictus, who presides over military victory, than with the particular non-violent teachings of the "Prince of Peace." This might not strike many as very good Christianity, but Constantine can hardly be expected to be drawn to Christianity for its pacifism; and it also true that Christianity never made pacifists or quietists of Christian rulers. Whether St. Louis or Abraham Lincoln, Christian rulers would always hope, like Joshua, for God's help in war.

Unlike Akhenaton we do have extensive contemporary comment about Constantine, as well as letters and decrees from his own hand. According to Diana Bowder [Who Was Who in the Roman World, Washington Square Press, 1980]:

Hot-tempered and generous, a man of action impatient with theological niceties or outraged by some flagrant example of oppression, superstitious like all his contemporaries but endowed with a grandiose sense of being God's vice-regent on earth, the founder of the Christian Empire is for us a vivid personality... A strong and effective ruler and reformer, he shares with Diocletian the main credit for the very existence of the later Roman Empire, and the long years of stable government in his reign made possible a genuine renaissance of civilian life and the fine arts. [pp.141-142]

Of course, his foundation of Constantinople made possible, not only the very existence of the later Roman Empire, but the survival of Romania there right through the Middle Ages, until 1453. Various details are noteworthy, such as the introduction of the gold solidus (called in the West the bezant), a coin that became the "dollar of the Middle Ages" and survived undebased from the year 310 until at least 1034 -- 724 years. This compares favorably with the durability of other historical coinage. The British Pound Sterling was fixed at 113 grains of pure gold from 1717 to 1931 -- 214 years. So Constantine's coin beats it in duration by 510 years. Not bad.

This is a tribute, of course, not so much to Constantine, but to the conscientiousness of his successors -- and to Constantine himself to the extent that he substantially founded their regime. With Constantine's personality, it seems of a piece with that of his fellow Tetrarchs, and the biggest mistake one could make is to construe it in terms of later theological controversies or with retrospecive ideals, whether Christian or rationalistic.

The Name "Constantine"

There is an interesting variation in the pronunciation in English of Constantine's name. British usage tends to render the "i" as the customary long English vowel "i" -- the equivalent of the word "eye" or the first person pronoun "I." We could represent this as the "Constanteyen" Constantine. American usage tends to use the "Continental" version of the vowel "i," i.e. as in French, Spanish, or Italian. We could represent this as the "Constanteen" Constantine.

Systems of Imperial Names
constō = "stand firm"valeō = "be strong"Maximus =
St. Valentine
*forms that do not occur
Since in Latin "Constantine" is Constantinus (with all Continental vowels), we already have the French device of replacing the Latin case ending with a simple "e" which then becomes silent -- in contrast to the German version, Konstantin (and Russian Константин), where no final vowel is provided.

While there is obviously no "correct" English pronunciation in this respect, it does strike me as affected when Americans use the British pronunciation.

There is something else curious about Constantine's name. It is, as it happens, purely Latin in origin. The verb constō, "to stand firm... remain the same, unaltered," which gives us the English nouns "constant" and "constancy," underlies all the names of the dynasty:  Constantius, Constantinus, Constans. The latter is simply the active participle of the verb.

However, in Latin Europe, Francia, these names are only very rarely found -- except in variants, like "Constance," Constantia, for women, which may be used more as a virtue name ("Hope," "Prudence," etc.) than as a tribute to Constantine. In Orthodox countries, like România, Russia, and Modern Greece, "Constantine," Κωνσταντῖνος in Greek, is quite common. We tend to think of it as primarily a Greek, or even a Russian, name. To be sure, there were three Kings of Scotland named "Constantine," but this may have been based on the Gaelic element Conn, "chief," as in "Connor."

So why was "Constantine" in such disfavor as a given name in the West? Perhaps for the same reason that the Latin Church does not recognize Constantine as a Saint -- it represented a kind of challenge to the Papacy. Until the end of Romania, there were many Emperors still named Constantine in Constantinople (eventually eleven of them, and six Patriarchs of Constantinople --
Constantian Porphyry Sarcophagus, Vatican Museum, Rome, 2019
as well as two Patriarchs named "Constantius"), none of them happy to agree to claims of Papal supremacy and authority.

A Latin ("Roman Catholic") priest thus might not have favored the name of a child that might remind him, or anyone, of this conflict. There was only one Pope (708-715, and one anti-Pope, 767-768) named "Constantine," well before the age of exaggerated Papal claims. For the ruler who legitimized and institutionalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, the avoidance of his name should strike anyone as peculiar, if not petty and ungrateful. But, you know, that's politics.

Constantine's Empire went to his three sons, who might have shared it with their cousins, but killed most of them instead. The sons, however, ended up with no heirs themselves, and the last family member on the throne, Julian, was one of the cousins who had escaped the massacre. Julian, whose own writings have been preserved, is one of the better known but stranger figures of the century. Quixotically trying to restore paganism, he only seemed to demonstrate that the old gods were spent and nobody's heart was really in it anymore.

Although apparently a fine enough military commander against the Franks, Julian's short reign ended with another Quixotic effort, against Persia. It was not so much the war itself as the ill conceived scale of the invasion, which left Julian all but stranded with his army, deep in Mesopotamia, with the Persians avoiding battle but constantly harassing him. Somehow this had not happened to Alexander, Trajan, Heraclius, or the forces of the Caliph Omar. It cost Julian his life, and his religious cause, since the Christian Jovian was then chosen by the Army.

Valentinian I
Fl. Valentinianus
Fl. Valens
364-378 E
Fl. Gratianus
Magistri Militum
Removes Altar of Victory from Roman Senate, 382Merobaudes
(a Frank)
375- 384 [384- 388]great earthquakes in Galilee, 363, & in Crete, 365; defeats Goths, 369; defeated and killed by the Visigoths, Battle of Adrianople, attack on Constantinople, 378
Valentinian II
Flavius Valentinianus
375-392 WTheodosius I, the Great

Fl. Theodosius
379-395 E
[Magnus Maximus, Macsen Wledig in Welsh]383-388
Britain, Gaul
Revolt of Magnus Maximus, with Merobaudes, defeated by Theodosius I at Aquileia, 388
Valentinian IIagain, 375-392 WBauto
(a Frank)
384- 385/8
(a Frank)
385/8- 394
Fl. Eugenius]
392-394 W
Revolt by Arbogast with figurehead Eugenius; restores Altar of Victory to Roman Senate; defeated at Frigidus River, 394
394-395 W
Outlaws taking of auspices from entrails, 384; Closes pagan temples, including the Serapeum, the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and the Temple of Vesta in Rome, 388-392; removes Altar of Victory from Roman Senate; divides Empire between Honorius & Arcadius
Jovian did not last long (apparently killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from a charcoal heater -- still a danger in the modern world), and the Army chose another Christian.

With Valentinian, and his brother Valens with whom he divided the Empire, the Christian nature of Romania was sealed. But the future seemed secure enough. Valentinian was vigorous and competent, even if his brother wasn't so much.

Unfortunately, Valentinian died, apparently of a heart attack (or perhaps a cerebral hemorrhage) in a fit of anger over the insolence of some representatives from the Huns, or some German tribe.

Downfall at Adrianople

With Valens as the senior Emperor, he didn't wait for full Western assistance (Gratian had his own problems) before moving to put down a revolt by the Visigoths, who had recently been admitted as refugees from the Huns but were now rising up against mistreatment by their hosts.

But the Goths were getting reinforcements, and they delayed the battle of Adrianople long enough for them to arrive. The resulting battle was close and hard fought but turned into a catastrophic rout, with Valens himself falling.

The cavalry of the Roman Left tired of the delays, on a hot day, had charged without support. They turned the Gothic right flank but ran into the wagons of the Gothic lager. Newly arrived Gothic allies then fell on their flank, scattering them and exposing the Roman left. With some units fleeing, Valens was caught in a partial encirclement. Not where you want to be. His biggest mistake seems to have been facing the Goths at their prepared position, and then accepting their delaying "negotiations."

Since Adiranople is often remembered as hinging on the supposed superiority of German cavalry, which is a fiction, it is worth noting that Valens might well be said to have been defeated by wagons.

At this point I introduce a new icon, the "Downfall" (Untergang) icon for the three key battles that mark the most significant stages in the Decline of the Roman Empire. This is the Egyptian hieroglyph that is used for "fight" and related words. We see arms holding a shield and a mace. Here, the loss to the Goths at Adrianople opened the way for the ultimate collapse of the Western Empire. The Romans never totally defeated the Goths, who, nevertheless, often acted as allies, foederati, and sometimes came to the aid of the Roman Army. But they ended up independent in Spain, until overthrown by the Arabs.

The other two "Downfall" battles are Yarmūk, where the Arabs destroyed the defense of Syria and began the permanent occupation of Roman land, and Manzikert, where the Seljuk Turks destroyed the defense of Anatolia, leading to the demographic creation of Turkey as itself a land of the Turks, erasing the presence of its earlier inhabitants, including the Greeks, and applying a steady assault, including genocide, against the adjacent homeland of the Armenians.

The ultimate "Downfall," of course, was the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, but this was not a battle of apparently equal field armies, and its outcome was never really in doubt. It was the final and cumulative consequence of all the earlier defeats. By contrast, all three of the "Downfall" battles here quite easily could have gone the other way. Whether that would have really and substantially changed history, we can never know.

Gratian appointed Theodosius as the new Eastern Emperor to restore the situation (marrying him to his sister), which seems to have been about the most useful thing he accomplished, before his murder.

After Adrianople, the Goths appeared before Constantinople. This was the first time since the City was founded that a foreign invader approached its walls. This came to nothing, but there will be many such attacks, and serious sieges in the future. Thus, I begin using an icon for these attacks, the Egyptian hieroglyph for "wall" or "fortification." Beginning in 378, we can count 24 sieges of Constantinople. Some of these were part of rebellions and so did not involve foreign enemies. Two sieges led to the fall and the sacking of the City, first by the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and finally by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. A special icon is used for those to indicate what specifically happened.

Similarly, in the period we are approaching here, Rome is sacked on two, or three, historic occasions, first by the Visigoths in 410, then by the Vandals in 455. The third sack is when the Ostrogothic King Totila retakes the City in 546, after Belisarius had recovered it from the Ostrogoths in 536. Thus, for these events, a special "sack" icon is used. Subsequent sacks of Rome in the Middle Ages, like the attack of the Aghlabids in 846, are indicated under the treatment of the Papacy.

The Vandals didn't even need to put the City under siege. Coming up the Tiber, they just broke straight in.
"The Sack of Rome by the barbarians in 410," Le Sac de Rome par les barbares en 410, by Joseph-Noël Sylvestre (1847–1926), 1890; Musée Paul Valéry, Sète, France; an absurd fantasy of naked Visigoths pulling down statues, which is 21st century America, not 5th century Rome; title sometimes given as "par les Vandales," who didn't sack Rome until 455.
The entry of the Visigoths, however, although after a siege, followed a certain kind of negotiation, with Alaric presenting himself as Magister Militum under the puppet Emperor Priscus Attalus. It was not as ruthless a treatment as what the Vandals would administer, being, I suppose, vandals.

Although Rome endured sieges, changed hands five times, and suffered very rough treatment, in the course of being reclaimed from the Ostrogoths, it looks like there was only one real sack of the City as those events transpired. In 546, Totila considered actually demolishing the City, for which the silly painting at right would have been suitable. He did try to demolish the walls, but destroying the whole City probably would have been beyond the endurance and patience of the Ostrogoths, who were not used to manual labor. Looting was more their speed. Otherwise, the worst effect was probably just in loss of population, who mostly fled. When Totila recovered the City for the second time, in 549, he decided to make it his capital, for which the idea of carrying away loot didn't make much sense.

Meanwhile there was a fateful development in the governance of the West. When Valentinian died, Gratian had already been raised to the status of Augustus and clearly was the legitimate Emperor of the West. However, the Frankish Magister Militum Merobaudes raised Gratian's young brother Valentinian (II) to the Purple. There was no particular reason to repudiate this action, except that it was obviously a ploy by Merobaudes to create a puppet Emperor.

The success of this coup was a chilling precursor to the eventual Fall of the Western Empire, whose final Emperors became the futile playthings of Germanic commanders. Merobaudes confirmed his disloyal intentions at the death of Gratian, when he threw his support to the usurper Magnus Maximus. Theodosius defeated and killed both of them at Aquileia in 388. Valentinian II's own death drew Theodosius west (again) to put down the usurper Eugenius -- who, apparently for the first time now, was merely the hand-picked figurehead of the German Master of Soliders, Arbogast -- another death knell for the Western Empire.

At the Frigidus River in 394 Theodosius put his Visigothic allies, faithfully honoring their treaty with the Empire, in the forefront of the battle. The slaughter of the battle, on a scale with Waterloo or Gettysburg, soured the Visigoths, who may have lost 10,000 men themselves, on the value of their cooperation. They would soon become a loose cannon within the Empire, shattering essential supports of Roman power as the tribe rolled around.

Thus, things in the West went steadily down hill after Valentinian I, with a troubling weakness of the (Western) Throne in comparison to powerful Germanic soldiers. Although the Battle of Adrianople need not have fundamentally affected the strength of the Empire, it acquires great symbolic meaning in retrospect because of the more permanent damage subsequently done by the Visigoths and the profound weakening of the Empire that attended it. For the genealogy of the Valentinians, see that of the Theodosians below.

Flavius Vegetius Renatus

It is in the reign of Valentinian II that we find the classic De Re Militari of Flavius Vegetius Renatus, the most important study of military science for many centuries. This is often favorably compared to the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, but Vegetius provides us with a much more thorough and discursive treatment.

Unlike Sun Tzu, however, Vegetius did not have the chance to direct armies himself, much less produce victories commensurate with the wisdom of his advice. He even seems unfamiliar with the use of some weapons, as though his actual military experience, of any sort, is limited. Nor does he give us a military historian's analysis of the battles of his era, which would have included the Battle of Adrianople. This is a grave loss to history and military science, especially as it allows false lessons to be drawn from Adrianople (as discussed above).

Renatus is particularly well remembered for two pieces of advice. One is succinctly stated in an aphorism:  Si vīs pacem, parā bellum, "If you wish for peace, prepare for war." If an enemy realizes that they might not do well against you, because you are prepared, then they will be relucant to start a war with you. The conventional wisdom among many, however, is that, if everyone is prepared for war, then a war is more likely. We might say this was born out with World War I, when an arms race did indeed lead to a great war.

However, in the aftermath, if the idea was to prevent wars like that from happening again, then a large body of opinion was that disarmament and arms limitation treaties were the things to do. Unfortunately, this put everyone at a disadvantage against Nazi Germany, which, largely disarmed after World War I, nevertheless was able to rapidly arm with parity in the 1930's, making World War II a desperate business, in which millions were killed. If Britain and France had not gotten sucked into disarmament in the 1920's, Hitler would have had no advantage.

The other piece of advice from Renatus we find him explaining:

THE FLIGHT OF AN ENEMY SHOULD NOT BE PREVENTED, BUT FACILITATED. Generals unskilled in war think a victory incomplete unless the enemy are so straightened in their ground or so entirely surrounded by numbers as to have no possibility of escape. But in such situations, where no hopes remain, fear itself will arm an enemy and despair inspires courage. When men find they must inevitably perish, they willingly resolve to die with their comrades and with their arms in their hands. The maxim of Scipio, that a golden bridge should be made for a flying enemy, has much been commended. For when they have free room to escape they think of nothing but how to save themselves by flight, and the confusion becoming general, great numbers are cut to pieces. The pursuers can be in no danger when the vanquished have thrown away their arms for greater haste. In this case the greater the number of the flying army, the greater the slaughter. [De Re Militari, Lieutenant John Clarke, Roots of Strategy, The 5 Greatest Military Classics of All Time, edited by Brig. Gen. Thomas R. Phillips, 1940, Stackpole Books, 1985, p.164, boldface added]

Sun Tzu gives identical advice: "[B]e sure to leave an opening for an army that is surrounded" [Victor H. Mair, The Art of the War, Sun Zi's Military Methods, Columbia University Press, 2007, p.104], or "When you surround an army leave an outlet free" [Lionel Giles, Roots of Strategy, The 5 Greatest Military Classics of All Time, op.cit.,p.40].

Sun Tzu does not explain why one should leave an opening. The effect of it, however, we can see in the Battle of the River Sajó (or Mohi), fought by the Mongols under the Khān Batu against King Bela IV of Hungary in 1241. After some Hungarian success, the Mongols surrounded the Hungarian camp. Leaving a gap in their encirclement, the Mongols tempted the Hungarians to flee, which they did, and could then be cut down on the run. Had the Mongols read Sun Tzu? Probably not. They certainly would not have read Scipio or Renatus.

The reference to Scipio's "golden bridge," however, has not always been understood in military history. Thus, the Marshal Maurice de Saxe of France (1696-1750) in his "My Reveries Upon the Art of War" says:

The words of the proverb: "A bridge of gold should be made for the enemy," is followed religiously. This is false. On the contrary, the pursuit should be pushed to the limit. And the retreat which had appeared such a satisfactory solution will be turned into a route [sic]. A detachment of ten thousand men can destroy an army of one hundred thousand in flight. Nothing inspires so much terror or occasions so much damage, for everything is lost. [Brig. Gen. Thomas R. Phillips, op.cit., p.299]

De Saxe apparently is thinking that the "bridge of gold" means that one should allow the enemy to escape. He cannot have recently read Vegetius if he believed such a thing. But he is clearly aware that a retreating enemy can well provide an opportunity for attack. He does not express, however, as Vegetius does, under what circumstances a retreating enemy can be fruitfully attacked.

We return to Sun Tzu again, who says, "Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight" [Lionel Giles, op.cit., p.40]. An orderly retreat may be as difficult to attack as a resolute defense. Vegetius sees opportunity when the retreat of the enemy is a flight in panic, which can be induced by providing the "bridge of gold" to an army already demoralized, as at the River Sajó.

We must always guard, however, against deception by an enemy who wants us to think that they are fleeing in panic. This was how the Arabs often defeated their enemies; and we see the same tactic used decisively by the Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, delivering Anatolia to Turkish invasion and migration. The Turks gave way and appeared to flee, but then they turned on the pursuing Romans, who had become disorganized in their own enthusiasm. The Emperor Romanus suddenly understood his peril, but his orders then, at least, further confused his army, as we will see below.

This tactic came naturally to mounted armies of nomads, who were used to swift maneuvers on horseback. In more subtle fashion, Hannibal had given way before the Romans at Cannae, to lure them into a pocket, where they were slaughtered. On the other hand, while the Germans of Late Antiquity had become nomads, and the Goths had even come off the Steppe, they were not, despite the general impression, a mounted army; and the tactics at Adrianople, where a fortified camp helped decide the battle, did not resemble the tactics of Arabs, Turks, or Mongols.

Renatus thus stands as a valuable monument in military history. He was not the last military strategist in Mediaeval Romania, where personages no less than Emperors, beginning with Maurice, wrote books on strategy and tactics, none so significant as On Skirmishing in War by the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, detailing how to defeat Arab raids into Anatolia.

The Tsunami of 365 AD

A great earthquake on Crete in 365, which thrust up the coast some 20 feet, has recently become a matter of interest for modern geologists. An account of it by Ammianus Marcellinus includes what may be the first detailed description in Western history of the phenomenon of a tsunami, (津波, jīnbō):

...the solid frame of the earth shuddered and trembled, and the sea was moved from its bed and went rolling back. The abyss of the deep was laid open; various types of marine creatures could be seen stuck in the slime, and huge mountains and valleys which had been hidden since the creation in the depths of the waves then, one must suppose, saw the light of the sun for the first time. [Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire, (A.D.354-378), Penguin Classics, 1986, p.333]

Not realizing that the sea would come back, people wandered down to the revealed places. As the water "burst in fury" and surged up onto the land on its return, thousands were killed, towns were leveled, and "the whole face of the earth was changed" [ibid.]. As far away as Alexandria, the tidal wave tossed ships onto the tops of buildings; and Ammianus himself later inspected a decaying ship that had been carried inland ad secundum lapidem, "to the second milestone," near Mothone (or Methone) in the Peloponnesus.

Edward Gibbon, contemptuous of the Late Empire and its historian, and apparently never having heard of such phenomena, didn't believe Ammianus:

Such is the bad taste of Ammianus (xxvi.10), that it is not easy to distinguish his facts from his metaphors. Yet he positively affirms that he saw the rotten carcass of a ship, ad secundum lapidem, at Methone, or Modon, in Peloponnesus. [The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I, Modern Library, p.899].

While, we have no recorded tsunamis in the North Atlantic or North Sea, which might have attracted Gibbon's attention, they are not so rare elsewhere, however, that it is not in the living memory of many to have seen the seafloor bared or ships thrown about in just the manner described by Ammianus.

In the massive 1883 volcanic eruption of Karakatoa (Krakatoa, Krakatau) in Indonesia, the Dutch steamship Berouw was lifted by a tsunami from its harbor in Sumatra and swept inland 3.3 km, i.e. two miles (ad secundum lapidem), up the Koeripan River, where it was permanently deposited in the jungle, at an elevation of 30 feet.

Tsunamis of spectacular and deadly effect have occurred in recent memory in Indonesia, in 2004, and then in Japan in 2011 -- where, with live video from news helicopters, large ships were tossed some distance inland -- the 330 ton Kyotoku Maru No. 18, a tuna trawler, was swept 750 meters (half a mile) into a residential neighborhood, where otherwise the buildings were demolished. It remained there for two years, until residents of the city of Kesennuma voted to dismantle and remove it. The draw down of the ocean in 2011 was visible and photographed in Hawai'i and California.

The response of some people around the Indian Ocean in 2004 was to go out to collect the fish that were flopping around where the sea had left them stranded. In 2011, the Japanese knew to head to higher ground, if they could -- the official death toll is now neverthless 19,747 dead.

The earthquake of 365 also came hard on the heels of a massive earthquake in Galilee in 363, whose effects can still be seen in walls that were thrown down in Petra, which may have been abandoned about this time. Damage from the earthquakes of 363 and 365 would have overlapped in Anatolia and around the eastern Mediterranean. The modern historian might do well to consider how the death and destruction of these great earthquakes may have weakened the resources of the area on the crucial eve of the struggle with the Visigoths.

Rome and Romania Index


The map shows the key incursions that would fatally undermine the Western Empire. After the death of Theodosius I, and the division of the Empire (for the last time) between Honorius in Milan (and then Ravenna, 402) and Arcadius in Constantinople, the Visigoths begin to roll around in the Balkans. This movement began to resemble the literal effects of a "lose cannon" to destroy the structure of the Roman Empire, revealing the failure of Theodosius to destroy, rather than temporarily coöpt, the tribe. He was manifestly unable to do so, which we must understand as revealing a fatal weakness of the Empire. The Visigoths would survive until the Islamic Conquest of Spain in 711.

In the course of dealing with the movement of the Visigoths, Stilicho evidently stripped the Rhine frontier of troops. When the Suevi, Alans, and Vandals crossed the frozen Rhine (or bridges) on New Year's Eve of 407, nothing, apart from the Franks (who inflicted some losses), stood in their way when they looted their way across Gaul and Spain. As they settled down in Spain, the Visigoths arrived in Italy. Later in 407, the usurper Constantine took his troops out of Britain, simultaneously to secure Gaul and to establish himself as Emperor. When Stilicho is murdered, his forces, largely German, disintegrate. Honorius, secure in Ravenna -- as Rome, after a fashion, burned -- was able to do nothing about the Visigoths or the other invaders, and he had to tell the British (410) they were on their own. Britain substantially drops out of history for a while.

[A]t that time [the Prefect] Anthemius [d.414] was fortifying Constantinople and the provinces. It was under his direction that the famous Theodosian land walls of the City were built, a project that lasted nine years (404-413). What he built was the inner (taller) circuit of what eventually became a triple line of defense (a moat and two lines of walls)... The new wall had 96 projecting towers, and owners of the land on which they were built were allowed to use them but required to maintain them; a later law billeted soldiers on the towers' ground floors. The wall stretched for 6 km [more like 6.5 km, 4 miles] from the Sea of Marmara, where it incorporated Theodoius I's Golden Gate, to the Golden Horn. It was beautiful, imposing, and impregnable; for centuries, the enemies of New Rome would fail to breach it. Henceforth, medieval cities would fall into three categories: unwalled, walled, and Constantinople.

Anthony Kaldellis, The New Roman Empire, a History of Byzantium, Oxford, 2024, p.166, boldface added.

394-395, West
Theodosius I, the Great

Fl. Theodosius
379-395, East
Council II, Constantinople I, Arianism condemned, 381;
Public penance for massacre at Thessalonica, ordered by St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 390; Destruction of the Serapeum, 392; Abolition of the Olympic Games, 394 (?)
Fl. Honorius
395-423 WStilicho (half Vandal)395-408Arcadius

Fl. Arcadius
395-408 E
Suevi, Vandals, & Alans cross Rhine, 1 January 407
[Priscus Attalus]408-410, 414-415Rebellion of Gaïnas suppressed, 400
Constantius III
Fl. Constantius
410-421Theodosius II
Fl. Theodosius
408-450 E
Longest reign in Roman History to date
jure uxoris
421 W
Gladiatorial schools closed, 399; Stilicho moves capital to Ravenna, 402; Gladiatorial combat ended in Colosseum, 404; Visigoth Alaric made Magister Militum for puppet Emperor Priscus, 408; Rome sacked by Alaric, 410; Gaul recovered by Constantius from Constantine "III," 411; Visigoths destroy Alans and Siling Vandals in Spain, 416
[Constantine "III"]407-411 in Britain
Gaul & Spain
Galla PlacidiaRegent, 423-437 W, d.450defeated by Vandals in Spain, 422; backs usurper John, 423-425; both deposed by forces from the East, 425
423-425 W
Valentinian III
Fl. Placius Valentinianus
425-455 WFelix425-430
Fl. Aëtius
430-432, 433-454University of Constantinople founded, the Πανδιδακτήριον, Pandidacterium, "Place of All Learning," 425; Council III, Ephesus, Nestorianism condemned, 431; earthquake in Constantinople, 447
Comes Bonifatius
jure uxoris
450-457 E
[Petronius Maximus]455 W
Vandals invade Africa, 428, take Hippo, 430, defeat Boniface, Count of Africa, and Aspar, capture (& release) Marcian, 432, repulsed from Carthage, treaty, 435;
Boniface defeats Aëtius at Rimini, dies from wound, 432
Suevi defeat Andevotus, Count of Spain, at the Jenil River, 438, take Mérida, 439, Seville, 441
Vandals take Carthage, 439; Visigoths provide troops for expedition against Vandals, and fleet of 1100 cargo & troop ships arrives with Aspar from Constantinople in Sicily, but expedition cancelled, because of threat from Huns, 441-442
Council IV, Chalcedon, Monophysitism condemned, 451; Attila the Hun halted at Châlons, 451; Aëtius stabbed to death by Valentinian, 454; Valentinian assassinated, Petronius elevated, flees, and is killed, Rome sacked by Vandals, 455
Theodosius may have been called "Great" mainly for establishing
Athanasian Orthodoxy and for actions against paganism like closing and sometimes destroying temples and ending the Olympic Games (which, however, seem to have continued in some form for another century). Otherwise, he did get the Goths under some kind of control and left the Empire, to all appearances, sound and prepared for the future.

Unfortunately, there were two very serious problems. One was that the Goths remained a unified and aggressive tribe within the Empire, ready to begin rampaging again at any time. Another was that Honorius and Arcadius, the two sons between whom Theodosius divided the Empire, were young and inexperienced.

Leaving the Army in the hands of the German Magister Militum Stilicho set the stage for all the evils of divided authority and palace intrigue. The result of this would be disaster. When the times called for a strong soldier Emperor, there wasn't one -- and there would not be one for some time, perhaps not until Heraclius -- who was overwhelmed when success with one military challenge, against the Persians, was followed, in his old age, by the extraordinary challenge of the Arabs.

An interesting misadventure in the reign of Theodosius was his massacre of rebellious citizens at Thessalonica, a city important enough that it was called the Συμβασιλεύουσα, "co-Imperial" city, with Constatinople. He was rebuked for this, and required to do penance, by St. Ambrose of Milan, whose standing as the Bishop of the Western Capital seems to have here overshadowed the Pope. But concessions that Theododius made to Ambrose are still used by the Papacy to claim its supreme authority in the Church.

Ravenna, Ῥάβεννα

In 401, Stilicho was away on the Danube, and Alaric, after a romp through the Balkans, led the Visigoths into Italy, putting Honorius under siege in Milan. Stilicho returned posthaste and lifted the siege. Alaric remained in the area, until Stilicho surprised and defeated him in 402 at Pollentia. Alaric was again defeated at Verona, and he finally withdrew from Italy. These defeats, unfortunately, where nowhere near the scale that would have eliminated the Gothic threat. After he no longer needed to face Stilicho, Alaric would return.

Feeling reasonably thus exposed to the Goths at Milan, Honorius, doubtlessly advised by Stilicho, moved his Court to Ravenna. This was a fateful step. It made Ravenna the administrative capital of Italy for the rest of the history of the Western Empire, for the course of the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths, and for the history of the "Byzantine" Exarchate in Italy,
Ravenna's Port of Classe, Civis Classis,
Basilica di Sant'Apollinaire Nuovo, Ravenna, 2019
until its fall to the Lombards in 751. Ravenna was thus the capital of Italy for 349 years. This is usually overlooked in the tendentious narrative of the "Fall of Rome," as is the glorious art and architecture placed there, anomalously during what is represented as the "Dark Ages." The form of the Exarchate, after the Lombard invasion, with a corridor from Rome to Ravenna, roughly along the Via Flaminia (Flaminian Way) and the Via Amerina (Amerinian Way), subsequently became the Papal States, from 754 until 1870 -- 1116 years.

Ravenna thus possesses a important place in general history and art history that is rarely addressed in popular or general academic culture. Despite the role of Ravenna, several of the last Western Emperors, with their political horizon reduced to Italy, did spend significant time at Rome. Valentinian III seems to have been there for eight years, about a quarter of his reign, including its last five years. Petronius Maximus (455) spent his whole, brief reign in Rome; and Anthemius (467-472) was killed there.
Port of Classe, Civis Classis,
Basilica di Sant'Apollinaire Nuovo, Ravenna, 2019

Some scholars think this means that too much emphasis has been placed on Ravenna; but considering how little awareness there is of the city, its monuments, and its history, certainly in popular culture and in scholarship outside the specialty of Late Antiquity, it is hardly possible to say that anything sensible is served by deliberately placing less emphasis on it. I might suspect that the "deemphasis" scholars resent the status of Ravenna and yearn for the centrality and dominance of Rome, now long gone.

Unfortunately, the military strength of Ravenna's position allowed Honorius to view the course of the Goths in Italy, and their sieges of Rome, with some complacency. On the other hand, the time spent by Valentinian III at Rome, especially in his last years, may reflect growing concern at the threat from the Vandals. Since the government had originally been drawn to the North of Italy because of the threat to the frontiers, it is not surprising that attention would be pulled back to Rome because of a threat from Carthage. If this was Valentianian's thinking, it was a good idea but ended up collapsing in chaos. Valentianian killed Aëtius, reportedly with his own hand, was himself assassinated, and then his ephemeral successor, Petronius Maximus, was killed while fleeing the City, leaving the Vandals unopposed. Having botched the defense of Rome, the government of Avitus, drawing on the power of the Visigoths, returned to Ravenna and the North -- until we find Anthemius again there, supervising the doomed 468 expedition against the Vandals.

Some uncertainty remains about exactly when Honorius moved to Ravenna. Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis says:

At the time of the Visigothic invasion of Italy of 402, Honorius and his advisors seem to have felt that Milan was too hard to defend, and so the emperor moved to Ravenna; the first imperial decree to have been issued at Ravenna is dated December 6, 402. The year 402 appears in almost every modern account as a pivotal date in Ravenna's history, even though no contemporary authors mention such a transfer in that year. [Ravenna in Late Antiquity, Cambridge, 2010, p.46]

In a footnote, Deliyannis cites Zosimus (d.circa 501), who "mentions Honorius's change of residence to Ravenna as happening in 408" [note 12, p.320]. However, although she leaves the impression that the date of 402 is based on the imperial edict (from the Theodosian Code), the Chronicle of Theophanes positively asserts that Honorious "moved to Ravenna, a coastal city in Italy" in the Annō Mundi year 5895, i.e. 402/403 AD [The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, Byzantine and Near Eastern History AD 284-813, Translated with Introduction and Commentary by Cyril Mango and Roger Scott with the assistance of Geoffrey Greatrex, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997, 2006, p.117].

We do not know, of course, the basis of the assertion of Theophanes, writing in the 9th century. It may have been in the very same imperial edict, or in historical sources now lost. Nevertheless, the date of the edict is not consistent with the (perhaps corrupt) date from Zosimus. It is also, of course, consistent with the logic of the situation. If Honorius was alarmed by Alaric trapping him in Milan in 402, moving the Court in 408 seems like a casual and unconcerned response. Moving the Court immediately, to a city with the benefit of a seaport, seems more like it.
Tomb of Dante, Exterior; remodeled by Camillo Morigia 1780-1782; Ravenna, 2019
Tomb of Dante, Interior; relief by Pietro Lombardo, 1483; Ravenna, 2019
Honorius never displayed any qualities of statecraft beyond helplessness.

As it happens, we find Judith Herrin, in a new book about Ravenna, Ravenna, Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe [Princeton University Press, 2020], treating the move of the Court to Ravenna in 402 as entirely unproblematic:

In December 402 the emperor's presence at Ravenna is confirmed by laws issued there and coins struck in his name at the new mint he established. [p.12]

The doubts of Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis about the date are not mentioned or discussed, not even in a footnote. Herrin adds that the decision to move the Court was probably that of Stilicho, since Honorius was still a child, and he would never display much prudent judgment anyway.

Dante's Tomb

I have been displaying, from an era long after the political and most of the cultural importance of Ravenna had faded,
Cenotaph of Dante,
Basilica of Santa Croce; sculpted by Stefano Ricci, 1829; Florence, 2019
the exterior and the interior of the tomb of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), who died here in exile from Florence, having previously found refuge at Verona and other places.

Florence would like him back, and at left I have displayed the elaborate tomb prepared for him, in the church of Santa Croce, which now only stands as a cenotaph, unveiled in 1830. In 1519, a delegation arrived from Florence, on the authority of Medici Pope Leo X -- Ravenna was in the Papal States -- to remove Dante's bones to Florence. They found the tomb empty.

The Franciscans, who had buried Dante, and who represented Dante's beloved St. Francis, had recently removed him for safe-keeping. Just in time. A crude chest, preserved by the Franciscans, is inscribed from 1677, but it was finally placed in a wall in 1810, as the monks were driven out on order of Napoleon. They never returned, and the bones evidently were forgotten, until accidently exposed in 1865.

Florence would still like to have him, but Ravenna still refuses to give him up. Frankly, I don't see why they should. Florence might have appreciated Dante while they had him. Instead, in the political revenge of the Black Guelfs against (Dante's) White Guelfs, he was condemned to death, twice, sentences only to be commuted under humiliating conditions. Dante refused, and he then wrote the entire Divine Comedy in exile. Now he adds to the fame of Ravenna, and visitors don't even need to buy tickets and wait in long lines, as they do to enter Santa Croce, to visit his tomb.

The Ghica at Ravenna

Archbishops of Ravenna

A Visigoth Explains Himself

With the Goths running wild, and an alliance of German tribes crossing the frozen Rhine on New Year's Eve of 407, the institutions were not prepared to bounce back the way Rome had in the 3rd Century. The center of Roman resistance was the Commander Stilicho, who had been entrusted with his office by Theodosius. But neither the Eastern Court nor Honorius liked the authority possessed by Stilicho, who had even married a niece of Theodosius, even as Honorius married Stilicho's daughter.

The result was, after being the only leader to resist the Germans, and keeping the Visigoths in check, Stilicho was tried and executed. As earlier with the rebellion of the Visigoths, the Romans turned on the Germans in the Army; but the purge did not strengthen the Army, as later it would in the East under Leo. Instead, the surviving Germans decamped to the Visigoths; and, unlike with the Isaurians under Leo, there was no one to replace them. Honorius, who didn't seem to possess any functioning army, never left Ravenna to seriously contest any action of the Goths, who only left Italy, after the death of Alaric, when they ran out of steam.

In 2023, Peter Sarris, Professor of History at Cambridge University (specializing in Late Antiquity, the Early Middle Ages and Byzantium), says some odd things about this period. Thus, we see:

But the Goths posed a growing threat to the western authorities, too, and as a result the western court relocated itself from Gaul into northern Italy, in part to keep an eye on the Goths. [Justinian, Emperor, Soldier, Saint, Basic Books, p.35]

It is hard to know what Sarris is talking about. The principal capital of the West, since Maximian, was Milan. Emperors certainly moved around. We know Constantine spent time at Arles and Trier; and we find Constantius Chlorus dying at York. But Honorius began his reign at Milan, where his father, Theodosius I, died in 395, well before the Visigoths were seen as any threat to Italy. Milan was well placed to back up the frontiers on the Danube, the Rhine, or Britain. When the Visigoths did become a threat to Italy, then Honorius moved, or was moved, to Ravenna. Unfortunately, this suggested retreat and defense rather than counterattack, which is how Honorius played it, never contesting Alaric's course through Italy.

With vague references to "individual military commanders and warlords," Sarris then says:

The military retinues and armies of these commanders felt little loyalty to the increasingly distant and ineffectual figure of a western emperor, whose court was now based at Ravenna. [p.37]

Again, it is hard to know what Sarris is talking about. Who were "these commanders and warlords"? We have the usurper Constantine taking his legions out of Britain in 407, and then Aegidius, loyal to Majorian, cut off in Gaul after 461. I especially don't know who we would classify as "warlords," unless it would be kings of German tribes, like Alaric.

The "commanders" who counted were the Magistrī Militum who commanded the core Western army; but none of them were "increasingly distant" from the Western Emperors, and the Emperors after Majorian were "ineffectual" because they were dominated by the Magistrī. If only Stilicho had resisted the coup and murder by Honorius, everything probably would have been in much better shape. So the problem was not some kind of "distance" between Magistrī and Emperors, but that they were right on top of each other, either in Milan or Ravenna.

By Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017),
The National Lampoon (1970 to 1998), September 1980
Meanwhile, soon after Honorius excecuted Stlicho, Alaric had sacked Rome, in 410, an event that shook the Roman world. It was the result, however, of a long maneuvering and negotiation, beginning in 408. With Stilicho gone, and his troops deserting, Alaric saw his opportunity, not to conquer Rome, but to actually replace Stilicho as Magister Militum.

Alternatively sieging Rome and treating with Honorius, Alaric managed to nab Galla Placidia, the sister of Honorius, and then, after little cooperation from the Emperor, Alaric got the Roman Senate to appoint a rival Emperor, Priscus Attalus, who, of course, made Alaric Magister Militum.

They moved on Ravenna, where Honorius repulsed them, with Eastern reinforcements, 4000 troops sent from Constantinople, during a truce -- his only military action, as far as I can tell, against the Goths -- one that didn't require him to move off his fundament. So Alaric returned to Rome, which surrendered, allowing for the infamous three days of looting. But the churches were respected, and the spoils of the Temple of Herod were also left in place -- waiting for the Vandals. After moving towards a crossing to Sicily, Alarc died, and his successor, Athaulf, left for Gaul, with Priscus and Galla in tow -- in 414 he then married Galla, perhaps with some level of coercion, but with Roman rites. She even had a child by him, named "Theodosius," who soon died, along with Athaulf (415).

The Toronto School

With various theses about the reasons for the "Fall of Rome," let me note some claims by Michael Kulikowski, a Professor of History and Classics at Pennsylvania State University, which we can see in a lecture at YouTube called "The Accidental Suicide of the Roman Empire." Kulikowski refers to Alaric as a "Roman general" and claims that the distinction between Roman and "barbarian" was the artificial construction of a "totalizing rhetorical strategy" that simply used the term "barbarian" against certain figures for political effect. This claim is absurd.

Alaric was born in the Roman Empire, or on the border (supposedly in the Danube Delta), but he was a member of the Visigothic Nation, who were not Roman citizens but a tribe of foederati -- just as most members of American Indian Nations were not American citizens until 1924 -- but who, unlike the Indian Nations, were not indigenous but were invaders who had become lodged in the Empire, like a bone in the throat. Kulikowski speaks of "barbarians" in the Roman Army as though they were already Roman citizens; but citizenship was conferred only after a term of service, generally 20 years, was completed. And Alaric was not in the Roman Army. He was in the tribal force of the Visigoths. Since he was not a Roman citizen, he was, in strictly legal, not rhetorical, terms, a "barbarian."

There are some claims that Alaric was a Roman citizen, but this may be based on the, again, false assumption that membership in the Army makes you a citizen. Alaric may be said to have been in the Army at the Battle of the Frigidus River, in 394. However, it was the Visigoths as foederati who were there, where Theodosius had put them, like Uriah the Hittite, in the "forefront of the hottest battle" [2 Samuel 11:15]. Something like 10,000 Goths were killed.

This made Alaric suspect that Theodosius, who otherwise had not been able to defeat the Goths, was trying to get them killed this way. Soon Alaric would lead them into rebellion. The casualties at the Frigidus do make us wonder how many Visigoths there actually were. Despite the toll of the battle, they remained a force equal to what the Romans could throw against them. Stilicho could defeat them; but, no more than Theodosius, he could not annihilate them.

Kulikowski thinks that Alaric played at being a barbarian for his own political purposes, a strategy adopted by others that undermined the institutions of the Western Empire. But with the noted misunderstandings or misrepresentations, Kulikowski's thesis collapses. Alaric didn't need to play at being a barbarian. He was one, with the Nation of the Visigoths behind him. And it was between him and other barbarians -- like the Vandals, Suevi, and Alans, whom no one could mistake as belonging to the Roman Army -- that the structure of the Western Empire was undermined.

Anthony Kaldellis comments on arguments similar to those of Kulikowski:

In recent decades, some historians [who Kaldellis identifies as the "Toronto School"] have denied that ethnic difference played a role and that these conflicts [involving Goths, Alaric, etc.], for all that they are described in the sources as between Romans and barbarians, were really only political struggles among rival Roman factions. This thesis must deny that Goths had their own identities and must recast them as regular Roman soldiers. Yet those armies had entered the empire from outside, spoke a separate language, and fought Theodosius I to preserve a quasi-autonomous status as forderati, a concession that the emperors would not have made if they had any other choice. Moreover, since our (Roman) sources consistently interpret events in light of ethnic differences between Romans and others, this school has to dismiss the sources for engaging in a purely rhetorical invention of ethnic identity. This strained approach is untenable and unnecessary. Romans were ready to accept barbarians who were settled on Roman terms. The empire possessed remarkably effective mechanisms for incorporating foreign peoples in this way. But quasi-autonomous armies from across the border that rampaged for decades through the provinces demanding money, land, supplies, and offices were a different matter. The armies of Alaric and the two Theoderics [Strabo and the Amal] were not treated by the authorities in Constantinople as regular Romans, even when they had to pretend that their barbarians leaders were magistri militum. For their part, the Goths had to stick together because the Romans were capable of massacring hostile foreigners who fell into their hands. This was done for example by officers (e.g., Julius in 378, with senatorial approval) and by the people of Constantinople in 400. Perceptions of ethnic difference mattered, and could even be fatal. [The New Roman Empire, a History of Byzantium, Oxford, 2024, p.245]

The "Toronto School" seems to go back to Walter Goffart, now at Yale, who was at the University of Toronto, 1960–1999. Part of the thesis in this seems to have been that the identification of the "Goths" as non-Roman was part of a Nazi ideological program to trace German identity back to the Roman period. Indeed, German nationalism of the 19th century, well before the Nazis, shifted from the Mediaeval ideology of the German Emperors identifying with the Romans (e.g. the "Holy Roman Emperors"), to a new nationalism identifying with the Germanic enemies of the Romans -- see below. While both the Kaiser Wilhelms and Hitler would get some mileage out of that, the misuse of history is no reason to deny the facts of history, which are that the Goths, Vandals, Saxons, etc. were an alien presence, speaking their own languages, that had invaded the Empire. The "Toronto" thesis seems to have as much a purely ideological motivation ("We'll fix those Nazis!") as would be any version of German nationalism.

As with the execution of Stilicho, a similar characteristic moment came with the commander Aëtius, sometimes called "the Last Roman" -- as is Belisarius. Aëtius had defeated the Huns at Châlons-sur-Marne (Campus Mauriacus or the Catalaunian Plains) in 451, with substantial help from the Visigoths, by then settled in Aquitaine, whose King Theodoric I was killed in the battle. But then Aëtius was murdered by the incompetent and jealous Emperor Valentinian III, with his own hand. Very personal.

When Honorius died in 423, his nephew Valentinian was only 4 years old. Because the usurper John seized the throne, Valentinian was taken by his mother, Galla Placidia, to Constantinople. Forces of his cousin, the Emperor Theodoius II, then defeated John and installed Valentinian in 425.

Peter Sarris says something odd about this:

Consequently, the eastern authorities had increasingly sought to secure the appointment there [in Italy] of more biddable, effectively 'puppet' rulers, often bound to the eastern Augustus by dynastic ties. They were even willing to see 'boy emperors' appointed to the western throne, knowing that they would be easier to manipulate and control. [Justinian, Emperor, Soldier, Saint, Basic Books, 2023, p.36]

This seems to me almost wholly false. By a "boy emperor" Sarris can really only mean Valentinian III, but with his mother Galla Placidia ruling as Regent in his minority, Constantinople had no chance to "manipulate and control" Valentinian. Sarris says that the Eastern Emperors wanted this control because they "did not want to have to worry about potential rivals and challengers from the West" [pp.35-36]. But there never were rivals or challengers to Constantinople from the West, and no Eastern Emperor ever, to my knowledge, displayed any concern about anything of the sort.

Sarris then says:

...the courts of these 'puppet', boy rulers were dominated by their courtiers, and particularly by 'overmighty subjects' (typically military commanders, themselves often men of barbarian origin who had been recruited into the Roman Army) [p.36]

Again, it is a little hard to know what Sarris is talking about. The one "boy emperor" with the Theodosians was governed by his mother and then by himself. The only "overmighty subjects" in this period, or the following, who dominated Emperors, were the Magistrī Militum, like Ricimer. They characterize the period after Valentinian, and they certainly controlled puppet emperors. But they were not "courtiers"; they were not controlled by Constantinople; and none of the Emperors were actually children (except Valentinian III and one other). The Emperors accepted by the West from Constantinople, Anthemius and Julius Nepos, were not children and were not intended to be puppets. The former was murdered by Ricimer (although at the hand of Gundobad) and the second chased out by Orestes. So Sarris seems to be describing a fantasy history, not what actually happened.

One other actual boy Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was installed by his father, Orestes. This had nothing to do with Constantinople and in fact was in the face of the Eastern recognition, still, of Julius Nepos. So I would really like an explanation from Peter Sarris how he came up with his narrative here.

The murder of Aëtius by Valentinian was masterminded by the plotter Petronius Maximus, who then plotted to have Valentinian murdered, and Petronius himself declared Emperor. This is attested by the Chronicle of Hydatius, who says that Petronius "by treacherous plots contrived the deaths both of those men killed by Valentinian and of Valentinian himself" [The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana, Two Contemporary Accounts of the Final Years of the Roman Empire, Edited with an English translation by Richard W. Burgess, Oxford Classical Monographs, Clarendon Press, p.105].

But Petronius only lasted two and a half months (Hydatius says "scarcely four months"). He cancelled a dynastic marriage to the Vandals, who then arrived to plunder Rome, in a systematic and thorough way, with Petronius murdered while trying to escape. Never was an ignominious end more deserved. The Vandal King Gaiseric made off with all the Imperial women, including the widow and two daughters of Valentinian III, one of whom, Eudocia, was married to Gaiseric's son, Huneric, and gave birth to Hilderic, who would be Vandal King (523-530), until deposed by his cousin Gelimer.

This fiasco then left the throne completely at the mercy of the next person to get control of the Army -- who effectively would be the German Ricimer. Ricimer could not himself, as a German, become Emperor, so he could only retain power by keeping the Emperors as figureheads, or killing them. This was not a formula for retrieving the situation, but it continued for the rest of the miserable history of the Western Empire, mostly dominated by Ricimer (456-472). The Theodosian dynasty thus ends in the West with a combination of triumph, betrayal, and chaos.

The Empress Galla Placidia

One of the most interesting people in the diagram is the Empress Galla Placidia, the daughter of Theodosius I, wife, as we have seen, of Athaulf, King of the Visigoths, wife of Constantius III, mother of Valentinian III, and Regent for him from 423 to 437. According to J.B. Bury, she was buried at her own mausoleum in Ravenna, where "her embalmed body in Imperial robes seated on a chair of cypress wood could be seen through a hole in the back [of her sarcophagus] till A.D. 1577, when all the contents of the tomb were accidentally burned thourgh the carelessness of children" [History of the Later Roman Empire Vol. 1, 1958, Dover, 1958, pp. 263-264].

It seems that said children, holding a candle within the observation hole to look in, dropped it. It is remarkable that something of the sort had not happened earlier (as Howard Carter was lucky in 1922 that he did not drop the candle he held up, in the last days before electric flashlights, to first look into Tutankhamon's Tomb). The idea of an observation port into a tomb may seem strange, but there is even such a feature in the tomb of Sir Richard Burton and his wife.

Mosaics in the mausoleum, as we see at right and below (next to the gridiron on which St. Lawrence, at right, was martyred by grilling), already show the books of the Bible bound in codices (sing. codex), i.e. familiar bound books rather than scrolls. This could only be done with parchment, since papyrus is too brittle to be stitched. Scrolls continued to be current for some time -- mosaics at Ravenna include figures standing side by side where one holds a scroll, the other a codex -- and fragments of papyrus records are preserved from Ravenna of this period. But it is probably difficult for people to think of "Romans" using books rather than scrolls; and this is not the only case where general perceptions fail to keep up with the changing times of Late Antiquity.

Although the mausoleum and its decorations remain in excellent condition, it is now customary to question whether the Empress or any other Theodosians had ever been buried there. Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis says, "When Galla Placidia died in Rome, she was probably [?!] buried in the imperial mausoleum at St. Peter's"; but she only cites a secondary source for this. I was otherwise unaware that there was an imperial mausoleum at St. Peter's; but Honorius had built one, nothing of which remains above ground, and no excavation has been done below ground. We have attested burials there of the infant son of Galla Placidia, Theodosius, and of Honorius himself; and the building latter became a shrine to St. Petronilla. Mediaeval sketches of it survive, but it was demolished when the "New" St. Peter's was built in the Renaissance. In 1544 a sarophagus was discovered on the site, that of Maria, wife of Honorius and daughter of Stilicho [cf. Mark J. Johnson, The Roman Imperial Mausoleum in Late Antiquity, Cambridge, 2009, pp.167,173]. However, no burial there of Galla Placidia or other Theodosians is attested, either at the time or later. Hence the "probably."
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia,
Ravenna, 2019

Deliyannis does conclude that the sarcophagi in the "Mausoleum of Galla Placidia" (always given in quotes) were indeed fifth century products contemporary with the building, and were intended for Theodosian burials by Placidia herself. Exactly who was buried there, however, was a matter of later tradition and legend [op.cit. p.82]. Deliyannis does not even discuss Bury's assertions:

Into this charming chapel Placidia removed the remains of her brother Honorius and her husband Constantius, and it was her own resting place. The marble sarcophagus of Honorius is on the right, that of Constantius, in which the body of Valentinian III. was afterwards laid, on the left. [Bury, op.cit. p.263]

Bury, unfortunately, also only cites secondary sources; and indeed he seems to derive his entire description from Thomas Hodgkin, Italy and Her Invaders, Volume I, The Visigothic Invasion, Part II [Oxford, 1892, pp.886-888]. Hodgkin himself cites no sources for his descriptions, or the story about the incendiary accident of 1577. Deliyannis denies that there is any contemporary information about the burials, providing various versions of traditional assignments [cf. note 247, p.334]. We are thus left with more questions than answers in this matter. There is a certain logic, however, that Placidia would be buried in the mausoleum that she arguably built herself.

Other sources claim that the mausoleum was intended as a chapel to St. Lawrence (or even someone else, despite the burning "gridiron," which is sometimes said to be for burning [invisible] heretical books, rather than the saint), and the sarcophagi introduced at some later, and unknown, date. However, there remain no features of the building that indicate use as a chapel, it is naturally dark with windows small and high up, featuring heavy, alabaster panes, and the space is identical in form and scale to the lower floor of the Mausoleum of Theodoric at Ravenna, which would have been more obviously intended for Theodoric's family members. Perhaps to bolster the case for Placidia's mausoleum, this later room, innocent of sarcophagi, is also rather weakly claimed to be a chapel, despite the absence of any appropriate features, and a small window directly behind where the altar furniture would have been, which would have blocked it.

When contemporary churches, like the nearby St. Vitale, let alone the distant, great Sancta Sophia, have many windows and are well lit, one wonders why these purported "chapels" should be left so dark. Since Theodoric's dynasty became disordered and fell soon after his death, the absence of sarophagi for further burials is not surprising. It puzzles me how sometimes historians seem to relish disputing the obvious. And with so many positive statements by Bury (from Hodgkin), it strikes me as negligent that Deliyannis would not even mention, let alone discuss them [note].

A stiking feature of the Mausoleum of Galla Pacidia is the Greek Key design found in the tomb, especially in color on one of the arches, as seen above. At the time I saw this, I was only aware of a similar form in the Temple of Bel at Palmyra, whose features are discussed there. Most extraordinarily, the design is enhanced with color to make it seem three-dimensional.

Equally influential in comparison to Pacidia, in the East was Empress St. Pulcheria Augusta, Πουλχερία Αὐγοῦστα, sister of Theodosius II and (apparently celibate) wife of Marcian. She is supposed to have requested the transfer of the Hodēgētria Icon from Jerusalem, although it is otherwise said to have actually been fetched by her sister-in-law, St. Aelia (Athenais) Eudocia Augusta, Αἰλία (Ἀθηναΐς) Εὐδοκία Αὐγοῦστα, with whom there was some rivalry and inversely varying fortunes of political influence.

Pulcheria was instrumental in the calling and conduct of both the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus (431), which condemned Nestorianism, and the Fourth at Chalcedon (451), which condemned Monophysitism. Her influence on subsequent Christian theology, and the problem of Schisms in the Church, was therefore immense. In conflict with the Patriarch Nestorius, soon to be exiled, she claimed the right to enter of the Holy of Holies of (the old) Sancta Sophia Church.

Pulcheria's chaste marriage to Marcian, Μαρκιανός, was the beginning of a tradition of a widowed Empress or Heiress marrying a candidate to be the next Emperor. Marcian's son-in-law Anthemius, Ἀνθέμιος, was also, with the help of this connection, installed as Western Emperor -- later to be assassinated. However, the real power behind Marcian's succession was the Magister Militum Aspar, who aspired to be a King Maker in the East the way colleagues like Ricimer were in the West. He got one more chance to do this, with Leo I, but he was then killed by Leo in a coup.

Later, there would be purer cases of an Empress legitimating a new Emperor by marriage. This also happened occasionally in Francia, where we have a term for it, that the new monarch was such jure uxoris, "by right of his wife." In the Kingdom of Navarre, which fell to heiresses no less than seven times, four Kings were provided by jure uxoris. We also see this in the County of Nevers, where there was a succession of six heiresses, one after another.

We might say this already happened with Constantius III, husband of Galla Placidia, but Constantius was no more than a coregent with Honorius, so he was not legitimated as a successor by the marriage. That would be his son, Valentinian III, who would already be legitimate as the son of his mother. Later, the most extensive use of jure uxoris would be under the Macedonians, where five Emperors by marriage, three with the Empress Zoë alone, would beat the record of Navarre. Note that the consorts of modern ruling English Queens -- Anne, Victoria, and Elizabeth II -- were not made Kings themselves. William III was a King because his claim to the Throne was considered equal to that of Queen Mary II.

St. Augustine of Hippo

This era of miserable collapse nevertheless contained instances of formidable intellectual development and important figures in the history of philosophy. St. Augustine of Hippo (395-430), whose name still evokes strong reactions even in our own day, and who died as the Vandals were besieging Hippo, still stands as the most prolific author in the Latin language, with 93 surviving works to his credit, not counting numerous sermons and letters.

This is a positive embarrassment for Classicists, who are usually not very interested in Latin literature after 100 AD and who would rather think that the writing from Augustine's era was all by half-literate, ignorant, and bigoted Patristic Fathers writing in Vulgar Latin. Unfortunately for this conceit, Augustine himself, inspired by Cicero, was a student of Classical Latin rhetoric and taught it at Carthage, Rome, and Milan (the Capital, remember) before he ever thought of converting to Christianity. The study of Latin without the study of Augustine involves a certain self-imposed blindness.

As with Constantine, there are curious alternatives in the pronunciation of Augustine's name. By analogy with Constantine, we might expect the alternatives "Augusteyen" and "Augusteen." I have never hear the former ever used. The later is the vulgar pronunciation, especially as used for the city of St. Augustine, Florida. Scholars, on the other hand, in both history and philosophy, seem to prefer "Augústĭn," with a short "i" and the accent on the second syllable, contrasting with the first syllable for "Aúgusteen." I find this perplexing, since the short "i" violates the ordinary rules of spelling in both British and American English, where a final "e" almost always indicates that the preceding vowel is long. If this is an affectation, I do not know how or when it got started. I don't see any difference between British and American usage in this respect.

The Seven Liberal Arts

Meanwhile, another North African author, far less accomplished as a writer, nevertheless made an epochal contribution to the character of education in the Middle Ages. This was the obscure Martianus Capella. Capella, a pagan and apparently a practicing lawyer at Carthage, seems to have died before the Vandal invasion. His seminal contribution to learning, The Marriage of Philology and Mercury, created the system of the Seven Liberal Arts:   the trivium (hence "trival"), of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, and the quadrivium, of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music -- each link there is to an allegorical painting of the art by Laurent de La Hyre.

Capella even included a system of astronomy in which Mercury and Venus orbited the sun. This later caught the attention of Copernicus. Capella was popularized by Cassiodorus and hence made his way into subsequent education, such as with Isidore of Seville -- who, like Capella, is often called an "Enyclopedist." Capella, however, may not have been entirely original. In the East, where versions of the Liberal Arts were also taught in Greek education, the tradition was that a similar list went back to the Sophist Hippias of Elis.

The idea of the Liberal Arts has now rather shrunk, and instead of including things like logic, mathematics, and astronomy, one might often think, given current academic practice, that only rhetoric, with its attendant sophistry, remains -- and grammar itself rejected as "elitist." So one is left with the question, "Which attitudes sound more like the ignorance of the Dark Ages?"

Diocletian had begun creating a very different kind of Army in the Late Empire. The old Legions actually still exist, but they largely have been settled on the land as fixed frontier forces, the Limitanei, and the old legionary establishment has been reduced to 1000 men, with the number of legions accordingly multiplied -- for instance, only one legion had previously been stationed in Egypt, the Legio II Traiana, but there are eight by the time of the Notitia Dignitatum (II Traiana, III Diocletiana, V Macedonica, XIII Gemina, II Flavia Constantia, I Maximiana, I Valentiniana, & II Valentiniana, though this is not always the full legion).

The frontier units are not shown on the map above, but their regional commanders are, the "Dukes" -- dux, "leader" (pl. duces). This is a title that will have a long history in the Middle Ages. The units that are shown on the map above are parts of the new Mobile Army, the Comitatenses, which were originally commanded by the Augusti and Caesares of the Tetrarchy -- hence, they "attend" or "accompany," comitor, the Emperors, as their "train, retinue," or "following," comitatus. An individual "companion" of an Emperor is a comes (pl. comites), or "Count," another title with a long history in the Middle Ages. In origin, however, a Roman Count has a higher station than a Duke, the opposite of what we see much later.

The sixth-century historian Agathias says that at one time the Army had a full strength of 645,000 men. This accords well with the data of the Notitia Dignitatum, which gives the whole establishment of the Army, apparently for the East in 395 AD and for the West circa 408 AD. Diocletian and Constantine, both accused of massively expanding the Army, thus produced a total force roughly twice as large as the Army of the Principate. There is no doubt that this was needed for the challenges of the Age -- indeed, it would prove inadequate to concentrate what would in fact be needed against the Visigoths and the other migrating German tribes.

In the map at right we see the Limitanei and the Comitatenses for the Western Army. It is noteworthy that some differences have developed between the organization of the Western and the Eastern Armies. In the West, the regional commanders of the Mobile Army are Counts. Britain features both a Duke of Britain, on the frontier, and a Count of Britain, with a unit of the Mobile Army. The Count of Illyricum is in the Western Mobile Army, but the Master of Soliders of Illyricum is in the Eastern. In the Western Army, above the Counts are the units commanded by the "Master of Soldiers," Magister Militum (or "Master of Foot," Magister Peditum), and the "Master of Horse," Magister Equitum, of Gaul. These are the commanders-in-chief of the Western Army (distiguished by purple color), with the Master of Soldiers becoming the effective "Generalissimo" of the Western Empire.

In the map at right for the East, we see the Limitanei and the Comitatenses for the Eastern Army. The units of the Eastern Mobile Army all are commanded by their own Master of Soldiers, with two units as "Soldiers of the Emperor's Presence." Since there are two of those, one might think there is one each for East and West. However, they apparently operated together and were part of the Eastern Army. Thus, the unity of the Eastern Army was focused more directly on the Emperor himself, which may have helped the Eastern Empire avoid the situation in the West where the Emperors became mere figureheads.

Recently, Anthony Kaldellis and Marion Kruse have argued, in The Field Armies of the East Roman Empire, 361–630 [Cambridge University Press, 2023], that the Notitia account of the Eastern Armies is not really about the way they were in 408 but dates from much later in the 5th Century. Thus, the inability of Theodosius to deal decisively with the Visogothic rebels and invaders was from lack of manpower. As the century progressed, however, the Armies were built up. Meanwhile, the Visigoths had moved West. But manpower remained a problem. Justinian created a new Field Army in the East, that of Armenia, and, of course, troops were required for the invasions and occuptions of North Africa and Italy. Many of the men for those forces were drawn from the two Armies of the Emperor's Presence, which whithered into nominal formations. This throws a lot of the history into a very different light; and the structural differences between the Western and Eastern Armies now look like developments in response to the decline, and the collapse, of the Western Armies, with their more traditional command structure under the Master of Soldiers. Thus, the subordination of the Eastern Armies directly under the Emperor is a response to the reducation of the Western Emperor to a figurehead and creature of his Master of Soldiers.

It is noteworthy that the Counts in the East, of Isauria and Egypt, are both in areas behind the actual frontiers. The Count of Egypt commands an army that from its size could easily have belonged to the Comitatenses. The Count of Isauria commands in an area known for rebellion. He has such a small force, however (Legio II Isaura & Legio III Isaura -- Legio I Isaura Sagittaria was with the Mobile Army of the East), the rebellions cannot have been too serious. Perhaps the problem was more like banditry. Nevertheless, this is where Leo I would draw recruits, including his future son-in-law and Emperor Zeno, to replace the Germans in the Eastern Army. The rebellion would get more serious when Anastasius came to the Throne, since Zeno's relatives, and others, thought they would be more important in the government. In 492 the Isaurians had to be defeated in pitched battle. The trouble peristed for six more years, after which the spirit of revolt seems to have been permanently quieted.

In the Notitia Dignitatum the Western Comitatenses have a slight numerical superiority over the Eastern, yet it was the Western Army that seems to evaporate after 407, especially in Gaul, which on paper was the greatest strength of any formation in the whole Army. Unfortunately, the Mobile Army as often was used for civil wars as for backing up the frontiers, and it was natural for Emperors to neglect the Limitanei and reinforce their own personal forces. This did not work out well, especially when the Western Army became the personal force, not of the Emperors, but of a Magister Militum who soon was usually a German, like Stilicho or Ricimer. Gradually, the Limitanei fade from historical view and hardly seem to exist at all by the time German tribes cross the borders en masse in the Fifth Century.

Legions of the Roman Army

Expeditions against the Vandals

On the map above, the Visigoths have actually become allies of the Romans. In return for cleaning (most of) the Germans out of Spain, they are legally settled in Aquitaine. Two German tribes, however, are left unmolested. The Suevi establish themselves, for centuries, in Galicia, and the Asding Vandals cross over into Africa. Indeed, there is some evidence that the Visigoths assisted the Vandals, playing a double game.

Of all the blows to Roman power, the latter would prove to be one of the worst. Rome could no longer draw grain from North Africa. Much worse, the crafty Vandal King Gaiseric ("King Caesar") built a fleet after securing Carthage in 439. He then did what the Carthaginians so many centuries earlier had not been able to do:  Secure control of the seas. In 455 they did what Hannibal could only have dreamed of, arriving at Rome by sea, breaking into and looting the city, and carrying the booty back to Carthage -- that would have saved Carthage.

The Vandal invasion was contested. In 432 the Magister Militum Aspar arrived with reinforcements from Constantinople; but he and Count Boniface were defeated by Gaiseric. The future Emperor Marcian, retainer of Aspar, was captured, but Gaiseric released him, supposedly after a vision of Marcian as Emperor. After the fall of Carthage, it would take four more Roman efforts to wipe out the Vandals and recover North Africa, not completed for a good century. The expeditions were:

  1. That of Aspar, launched in 431. This was to assist Boniface (Bonifactius), who would briefly be the Western Magister Militum in 432. Aspar himself we later see at the Court of Leo I. As noted, Aspar and Boniface were defeated. However, Aspar was able to negotiate a treaty, in 434, to secure Carthage and its environs. That lasted until 439, when Gaiseric took Carthage.

  2. That of Aëtius, in 441, staging in Sicily, a fleet of 1100 cargo & troop ships arrives from Constantinople, commanded by Aspar, cancelled in 442 because of the threat of the Huns.

    The Chronicle of Hydatius says that subsequently, in 456, a fleet of 60 Vandal ships was defeated by the Comes Ricimer and a "horde of Vandals" was slaughtered on Corsica, but this had no impact on the Vandal possession of Carthage.

  3. That of Majorian, in 461, when his fleet was burned or "seized" while organizing in Spanish ports, which led to Majorian's murder. The Vandals clearly had either good intelligence or good reconaissance, or both. Hydatius says that the Vandals "had been given information by traitors."

  4. The joint East/West expedition of Anthemius & Basiliscus, in 468, when the fleet reached Africa but then was burned by Vandal fireships, either because it was carelessly anchored (treachery?) or because the fleet was blown to a lee shore by adverse winds. This led to the murder of Anthemius and probably to the coup of Basiliscus in 475.

  5. Finally, the successful and dramatic expedition of Belisarius in 533-534. This annihilated the Vandals in Africa, but the Vandal King Gelimer and many Vandal nobility were pensioned off onto estates in Anatolia. Ostrogoths would later join them. Very different from the way the Romans used to treat their enemies, like poor Vercingetorix.

The number of these efforts show the awareness of the Romans for the seriousness of this problem, but also their difficulty in staging and executing a recovery. The expedition of 468 was the last one that could have saved the Western Empire, which didn't even last ten years beyond that.

Meanwhile, around the same year, Hengest the Jute, followed by Angles and Saxons, founded the Kingdom of Kent.

The Venerable Bede

It is noteworthy that the Venerable Bede (Venerabilis Baeda, 673-735) numbered Theodosius II as the 45th and Marcian as the 46th Emperors since Augustus. This is considerably less than the count we might make now and it interestingly implies that Bede is using a tradition of a numbered list from which many ephemeral Emperors were excluded [note].

After Roman Britain disappeared from history, when the usurper Constantine "III" took his troops to Gaul, Bede's History of the English Church and People is just about the first that we then hear of it, three hundred years later, with one exception:  St. Gildas "the Wise" (Gildas Sapiens, Breton Gweltaz; c.500-c.570), whose De Excitio et Conquestu Britanniae, "The Ruin and Conquest of Britain," is the only contemporary account of the Gemanic invasion of Britain. Since Gildas was one of the Britons who fled (from Cornwall) to Brittany, he may be more an illustration, rather than an exception, to the loss of literacy in Britain.

Gildas provides some key information, which we find repeated, sometimes word for word, in Bede. He says that Ambrosius Aurelius rallied the Britons against the Saxons. And the Saxons were stopped for a while, gaining a period of peace, after a defeat at Badon Hill, Badonicus Mons. Gildas says this was the year he was born, 44 years after the landing of the Saxons. Now, the first Germans to settle in Britain were the Jutes led by Hengest, in about 455. The Saxons came a little later, with Aelle & Cissa in 491. So if Gildas means Hengest, this puts Badon Hill in 499; but if he really means the Saxons, it would be more like 535. With various dates proposed for Badon Hill between 493 and 518, the 499 date looks more likely -- except for a consideration mentioned below. With Gildas living until 570, it was just a century before the birth of Bede in 673.

While the narrative of Gildas is of unqualified ruin, and historians were long left with the impression that the Germanic invaders had wiped out the Britons where they settled, there is now better information and a new perspective on this. From archaeology, we know that Britons continued to be buried alongside the new Germans, distinguished by their own burial customs. Also, the legislation of Saxon Kings deals with Britons, i.e. "Welsh," enough that it is clear there were many of them around. And now, the most decisive evidence is from DNA studies. Only 4% of modern male English DNA (from Y chromosomes) is traceable to a German migration -- little modern female DNA (from mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed on in egg cells). Thus, the invaders were almost entirely men, and there can have been no more than about 250,000 of them [John McWhorter, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, The Untold Story of English, Avery, Penguin Random House, 2008, 2009, pp.12-13].

Similar genetic results have been found about the later Viking invasions. Despite excitement over evidence of warrior women in Scandinavia, the long boats didn't have many women in them. One durable effect of the mixing of Britons with Germans are linguistic features, like the odd "do support" rules in English ("Did you have dinner?" "No, I didn't have dinner."), that are still prevalent in Welsh but found in few, if any, other languages. Also, the construction with participles (e.g. "is seeing"), by which English expresses the imperfect or progessive aspect, is also still characteristic of Welsh and, again, of few if any other languages. Thus, the modern English are substantially still the ancient British population, whose women were taken by Germans and Vikings, and they still use features of the ancient British languages.

King Arthur

What events filled the time after Gildas, and the vague years between 410, when Honorius told the Britons they were on their own, and Gildas, became strongly mythologized, especially around the figure of King Arthur. The first Life of Gildas was written in the 9th century, even later than Bede. Neither source mentions a King Arthur. We still just have Ambrosius Aurelius, whom Bede says won the battle of Badon Hill, altough Gildas actually does not say so.

The Life does say, interestingly, that Gildas was born in the Kingdom of Strathclyde to the royal family, a son of King Caunus. This does not clearly match any name I have for Strathclyde, although "Cinuit" is close, in the right time frame. But the brother of Gildas, "Cuillum," the next King, doesn't match at all. Gildas is even supposed to have sojourned in Ireland, working for the High King Ainmere macSátnai O'Néill (566-569), before going to Rome, Ravenna, and back to Brittany.

Arthur's name seems to first occur in the Historia Brittonum in the 9th century and then in the Annales Cambriae in the 10th. Most popular discussions of Arthur begin with the Historia Regum Britanniae [1136] by Geoffrey of Monmouth or Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur [1485]. Thus, in popular presentations, Gildas and Bede might not even be mentioned, which means that Ambrosius Aurelius may not be mentioned. This gravely detracts of the historical value of the treatments. The Historia Brittonum itself is more than 400 years after the events it chronicles.

Indeed, in the next Life of Gildas, in the 12th century, Ambrosius Aurelius is replaced by King Arthur, with elements filled in from the rest of Arthurian legend. Where this all comes from is what piques our interest. I suspect that the vividness of the Arthur stories, like that of the Greek epics and of the Mahābhārata in India, is an artifact of a literate society that for a time lost its literacy but remembered, after a fashion, what it was like. The literature on the problem of Arthur and Britain in this period is vast. The book that is of particular interest to me is From Scythia to Camelot, A Radical Reassessment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail by C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor [Garland Publshing, Inc, New York, 1994, 2000].

Littleton and Malcor made the significant discovery that the scene of Arthur's death in Mallory's Morte d'Arthur [1485], where the sword Excalibur was thrown into a lake, occurs in almost identical terms in the legends of the Ossetians in the Caucasus -- the epic literature of the Ossetians had come in for particular study by the great historian of religion, Georges Dumézil (1898-1986). There is a possible connection, since the Ossetians are descendants of the Alans, and Marcus Aurelius had settled a tribe of Sarmatians, the Iazyges, cousins of the Alans, whom he had defeated in 175 and taken into Roman service, in the north of Britain, where many of them ended up at the evocatively named Bremetenacum Veteranorum, south of Lancaster.

The Prefect of the legion to which the Iazyges were assigned, the Legio VI Victrix, was one Lucius Artorius Castus. "Artorius" looks like the Latin source of the name "Arthur." Scott Littleton (who taught at Occidental College and, sadly, passed away in 2010) told me personally that we know about the career of Castus from his funeral stele that was discovered in Dalmatia. This intially gave me the impression that the stele was a recent discovery. However, Littleton and Malcor's book cites it from the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, of 1873 [CIL: Inscriptiones Asiae Provinciarum Europae Graecarum Illyrici Latinae, Theodor Mommsen, #1919, Vol. 3, Part I: 303; Vol 3, Supplement: 2131, Reimer, Berlin].

A curious thing about this information is that a later book, The Complete Roman Legions, by Nigel Pollard and Joanne Berry [Thames & Hudson, 2012], which has detailed treatments of individual legions, lists known officers for some of them, and mentions one officer of Legio VI Victrix --the military tribune Marcus Pontius Laelianus -- nevertheless does not mention Castus in the same connection. Yet Pollard and Berry's reference for their knowledge of Laelianus is a funeral stele at Rome listed in the very same Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum [p.94]! So either they have overlooked the inscriptions about Castus or, for some reason that they do not discuss, they have discounted their validity. Littleton and Malcon mention no disputes of that nature.

So the vivid theory of Litteton and Malcor is that the legends of the Alans, brought by the Iazyges, are perpetuated by their descendants in the North of Roman Britain, folding in with their memory and reverence for their original Legionary commander, Lucius Artorius Castus, and eventually confused with the historical recollection of Ambrosius Aurelius and the Battle of Bandon Hill. For all we know, descendants of the Iazyges may have fought at Badon Hill. This all makes a nice picture; but there is nothing certain about the speculations and disputes over the Arthurian stories except that they will be endless [note].

Britain in Procopius

The historian Procopius makes some contemporary references to Britain. Belisarius offers "the whole of Britain," facetiously, to the Goths in exchange for Sicily [Procopius, History of the Wars, III, Book VI, vi, 28, translated by H.B. Dewing, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1919, 2006]. Afterwards, Procopius wants to damn Justinian for paying subsidies to barbarians:

Τοὺς δὲ βαρβάρους ἅπαντας οὐδένα ἀνιεὶς καιρὸν χρήμασιν ἐδωρεῖτο μεγάλοις... ἄχρι ἐς τοὺς ἐν Βρεττανίαις ᾠκημένους...

And he never ceased pouring out great gifts of money to all the barbarians... as far as the inhabitants of Britain... [Procopius, The Anecdota or Secret History, xix, 13, translated by H.B. Dewing, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1935, pp.232-233]

From this, we may infer that Constantinople was in diplomatic contact with Kings in Britain. It would be nice to know if these were Germans, i.e. Angles, Saxons, or Jutes, or if there was contact with the remaining British kings in Wales or Cornwall. There has been extensive archaeology in Cornwall, in places associated with the Arthurian legends, that has uncovered manifold products of Roman trade from Justinian's day. This adds to the impression of intercourse.

Indeed, I have now seen assertions, purportedly from Irish chronicles, that the bubonic plague arrived in Cornwall in 547. This provides us relevant information on two issues. One, it reinforces the evidence of trade between the Romans and the Britons, since it would have been Roman ships carrying to the plague to Cornwall. Thus, Roman contact with the invading Germans is ruled out; and, as it happens, the Germans' own trade seems to have been back to Germany and Denmark. Next, at the same time, plague among the Britons, but not the Germans, adds an explanation how British defense against the Germans can have been damaged. The plague might have killed a large portion of the British population, limiting the manpower available for defense.

The link of Cornwall to the Arthurian legends is strong. Arthur was the son of Igraine (Ygrayne) who was the wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. Because of the lust of King Uther Pendragon for her, war is made on the Duke; and Igraine is stashed in Tintagel Castle, Cornwall. As the Duke is being killed in battle, Uther is disguised by Merlin as Gorlois with a glamour, and lies with Igraine, who thinks he is her husband. Arthur is conceived. Various accounts of her fate exist, including that she married Uther, or that she straightaway died. Either way, Arthur is Cornish by birth.

But Procopius may have been unfair about the "barbarians" part. If it is still the British in Cornwall, which it would have been for some time, then they could very well have a claim to still be Roman citizens. With contact back and forth to Constantinople, I wonder if that is how they thought of themselves. King Arthur the civis Romanus. If Badon Hill is dated to 535, this is actually during the reign of Justinian. It could have been Arthur himself receiving subsidies. Roman money could have paid for Camelot. This did not even occur to Littleton and Malcor, or work its way into any Arthur movies. We could have Arthur admiring images of Theodora -- distracting his attention away from Guinevere. Something to think about.

The Boundaries of the Romans, Britain, Spain, etc.

2. LAST WESTERN EMPERORS [names in brackets not recognized by East]WESTERN COMMANDERS Magistri Militum
Eparchius Avitus
455-456 W,
Remistus (a Visigoth)456
Proclaimed by Visigoths, 455; Comes Ricimer defeats Vandals at Agrigentum & destroys their fleet off Corsica, Visigoths invade Spain, 456; deposed by Majorian & Ricimer, Bishop of Piacenza, 456Ricimer (half Visigoth & half Suevic)456-472
Julius Valerius Maiorianus
457-461 W
Vandals surprise & burn fleet organizing against them in Spanish ports, Majorian discredited, murdered, 461; Aegidius in Gaul never acknowledges subsequent Emperors
[Libius Severus]461-465 W
interregnum465-467 W

Procopius Anthemius
jure uxoris
467-472 W
Joint E/W expedition against Vandals fails, 468; Anthemius captured in Rome & executed by Gundobad, 472
Anicius Olybrius]
472 W
interregnum472-473 WGundobad472-474
[Glycerius]473-474 W,
King of Burgundy, 473-516
Julius Nepos474-480 WEcdicius474-475
son of Avitus
deposed in Ravenna, retreats to Dalmatia, 475Orestes475-476
[Romulus "Augustulus"]
475-476 W,
Odo(w)acer, Ὀδόακρος (a Scirus?)
deposes Orestes & Augustulus, 476; Nepos killed, 480; defeated, besieged, & killed by Theodoric, 489-493
The last twenty years of the Western Empire are mainly the story of the commander Ricimer. The last Western Emperor really worthy of the name was probably Majorian, who was a military man in his own right and operated with success in Gaul and Spain. The naval expedition he organized against the Vandals in 461 (one of some four attempts to put down the Vandals in this era) failed when Gaiseric, apparently with good intelligence, destroyed the Roman fleet in its ports in Spain. Majorian was murdered by Ricimer on returning to Italy.

Henceforth, the Emperors were mainly puppets and operations were confined to Italy or the area of Arles in southern Gaul. More than the coup of Odoacer, Ὀδόακρος, in 476, this signaled a real institutional change in the Western Empire. The German Ricimer would now hold the real power, with little better than figurehead Emperors.

With Ricimer either unconcerned or distracted, the rest of the Western Empire fell by default to the Vandals, Visigoths, and Burgundians. A detached Roman pocket, intially under a commander, Aegidius, appointed by Majorian, remained in the north of Gaul until the Frankish King Clovis subjugated it in 486. Britain had been abandoned to illiterate mythology. Ricimer was once perusaded to accept an Emperor from the East, Anthemius, and to participate in another assault on the Vandals; but this was a disaster, and he ended his "reign" with another figurehead on the throne.

Gundobad, a nephew of Ricimer, the killer of Anthemius, and shortly to be King of Burgundy (where he would outlive most of his contemporaries), succeeded Ricimer and briefly had his own figurehead on the throne. This was the Count Glycerius. Gundobad acquiesced in the installation of a new nominee of the Eastern Emperor -- Julius Nepos -- and decamped to Burgundy.

As with the previous Eastern nominee, it is obvious that such Emperors only would have been effective if they had brought their own army. The first commander of Nepos, Ecdicius, was a son of the former Emperor Avitus. Ecdicius, however, was soon followed by a new commander, Orestes, Ὀρέστης. There was now some difficulty, however, with the German troops of the Empire accepting a non-German commander. This problem reached a head when, rather than working together to get things organized again, Nepos was chased out to Dalmatia by Orestes, who assumed command and then put his own son, a child -- Romulus the "little Augustus" -- on the throne. The German troops wanted to be settled on the land in Italy, which Orestes resisted. So in 476, Orestes was killed and his son then deposed by the German Odoacer (who originally may have been in the guard of Anthemius), who decided to do without a figurehead Emperor.

This was the rather anticlimactic "Fall of Rome." Odoacer even returned the Western Regalia to Constantinople. Nepos, meanwhile, was still in Dalmatia. Odoacer was rid of him by 480, reportedly (in the historian Malchus) with the help of no less than Glycerius, who on his deposition had been appointed Bishop of Salonae -- hard by Nepos in Spalatum. This may be who assassinated Nepos, leaving the territory open to Odoacer, who could conveniently "avenge" Nepos.

Since Odoacer, de jure, was a faithful officer of the Emperor in Constantinople, one could say that the last institutional existence of the Western Empire surived until Odoacer was overthrown by the Ostrogoths in 493. The real difference, however, had come in 456, when Ricimer gained control of the army. His long tenure structurally prepared the way for the demise of the Western Empire.

The "Last Emperor" of Rome

The pathetic and ephemeral "Little Augustus" Romulus, who wasn't even remembered as a Roman Emperor by later Mediaeval historians, such as the Venerable Bede, is now often dignified, with great portent and drama, as the "Last Emperor" (this would be -- 末帝, Mòdì -- in Chinese, where it could be used postumously for the last Emperor of a Dynasty, most notably the Ch'ing Dynasty). This is what we may get from writers who scrupulously, albeit fallaciously, remind us that the later Empire, when they are not calling it the "Byzantine Empire," was merely the "Eastern Roman Empire." They often forget the "Western" when talking about Augustulus as Emperor.

The narrative is clearly that the Eastern Empire wasn't really Roman because to be "Roman" you need Rome, and Rome was in the West. That Augustulus never "ruled" from Rome, but from Ravenna, may then be forgotten as well. It would confuse the picture. The Last Roman Emperor must have been clinging to the Eternal City like a shipwrecked sailor to a raft. The best that can be said for this approach is that it is ahistorical, since for judgments about the Empire and Roman-ness at the time, the City was irrelevant. And, as we see from the cases of Anthemius and Nepos, the Eastern Emperor always retained some authority over who would be his Western colleague.

The lapse of the Western Throne simply meant that authority over the Western Empire, however reduced or tenuous its existence, reverted entirely to Constantinople. The division of the Empire, which had never been more than a device and a convenience, despite the very different circumstances and institutional histories and fates of the two halves, lapsed and was completely forgotten -- until revived by Modern historians, who now don't understand what these f***ing Greeks were doing calling themselves "Romans." I fear that that is often about the level of their treatment.

This is the kind of attitude we actually see with Bryan Ward-Perkins, in his The Fall of Rome, and the End of Civilization:

The early Germanic Kings of Italy, and elsewhere, even minted their gold coins in the name of the reigning emperor in the East, as though the Roman empire was still in existence. [Oxford University Press, 2005, 2006, p.68]

The Germans knew that the unity of the Empire had been restored, under the authority of the Emperor in Constantinople; but that circumstance has still not quite sunk in with Ward-Perkins, despite the perspective of 1500 years.

Odoacer the Barbarian

In 2007, we have a movie, The Last Legion, that is about Romulus Augustulus, Odoacer, et al. This is an extensively fictionalized and even silly version of events, where Romulus Augustulus flees to Britain and becomes, well, King Arthur -- with Ben Kingsley as some sort of Merlin. Since the project is clearly a fantasy, it does not merit much notice, except for the points that would give people the wrong idea about the era.

The worst part of the story may be that it has it that Odoacer was a (filthy, wild) Goth attacking Rome (a former ally rather like Alaric). But Odoacer was not a Goth, but from a lesser German tribe, the Sciri (although the sources are ambiguous and conflicting, so argument continues about his derivation), and he was not attacking Rome, but simply a member of the (barbarized) Roman army.

Having disposed of Orestes in a coup, thereby becoming Magister Militum, Odoacer dethroned his son, Augustulus, in Ravenna. Odoacer in fact was eventually himself deposed, after a long siege of Ravenna, by Goths, the Ostrogoths under Theodoric -- who received Odoacer's surrender and then murdered him at a "friendship" banquet. The distortions in the movie are certainly made to preserve the image of Rome (the City) being conquered by barbarian hordes.

At the same time, we get the notion that Romulus Augustulus is somehow the descendant or heir of Julius Caesar. There is no evidence of this, Caesar himself had no descendants, and the other heirs were pretty much wiped out by 69 AD (though the movie actually says that the unrelated Tiberius was the last of the ruling Caesars!). The Eastern Empire does come in for mention in the movie, but only so that it can absurdly contribute a female warrior,
Conan (Odoacer?) the Barbarian
played by an actress from India (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), to the defense of Rome. I didn't know that India was part of the Roman Empire.

Hollywood (or, in this case, the Euro Italian-French-British co-producers) should have saved this stuff for a remake of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian [1982]. Otherwise, in its absurdity, it would have been just the thing for Monty Python.

We did get a remake of Conan the Barbarian in 2011. It was not successful, with a plot unrelated to the earlier Conan, and failed to make back its budget even in the international market. It is noteworthy now simply as starring Jason Momoa, who has gone on to make a splash with "Aquaman" and other characters. Part Hawaiian and born in Hawai'i, Momoa qualifies for "Pacific Islander" characters, avoiding the controversies over actors who are the wrong ethnicity for certain parts. Dwayne Johnson, who is half black (with some Irish) and half Sāmoan, is similarly qualified, voicing the god Maui in the film Moana [2016]. It is not clear, of course, what ethnicity Conan would have been.

On Hollywood

The End of Roman Gaul

Little is known about the Roman pocket in the north of Gaul. We hear about Aegidius, the magister militum per Gallias, apparently appointed by Majorian. In the Notitia Dignitatum, the commander of Roman forces in Gaul was the magister equitum, Master of Horses instead of Soldiers. Ordinarily, the Master of Horses would be a title inferior to Master of Soldiers, since cavalry was an auxiliary force to the infantry. The title of the Master of Horse of Gaul, however, may mean that he was second in command for entire Western Army, a serious position indeed.
Master of Horse
of Gaul
defeated, killed
by Clovis
Since the strength of the forces in Gaul was some 32,500 men, this reinforces that interpretation -- although we then wonder why such a force seems to have been so ineffective when the Alans, Vandals, and Suevi invaded on New Year's Day of 407. Bury speculates that Aegidius held both titles [J.B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, Volume I, Dover Publications, 1958, p.333].

Aegidius did not accept the fall of Majorian or recognize Libius Severus, but he was preoccupied fighting the Visigoths until his death in 464. He was followed by someone we only know as the Count (comes) Paul. "Count" ("companion" of the Emperor) is actually a high title, but Bury supposes he must have also held the "Master" titles also. Ricimer appointed his own magister militum for Gaul, Gundioc, the King of Burgundy (434-473); but both Aegidius and Paul maintained their position with the help of the Franks, who remained loyal allies, against the Visigoths and Burgundians.

That changed when a new Frankish King, Clovis (Chlodwig), succeeded his father in 481. Meanwhile, Paul had been followed by the son of Aegidius, Syagrius. The Franks actually called him rex Romanorum, a good indication that his realm and authority were seen as quite independent -- indeed, there was no longer a Western Emperor at that point. It is not known what Syagrius called himself. Clovis defeated him at Soissons in 486. Syagrius fled to the Visigoths, who returned him for execution by Clovis.
Vercingetorix Throws Down His Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar, Lionel-Noël Royer (1852-1926), 1899

This was the end of Roman Gaul, 546 years after Caesar had completed its conquest in 56 BC -- or perhaps 531 years since the defeat and capture of the rebel Vercingetorix in 52 BC. We see Vercingetorix surrendering in the 1899 painting by Lionel-Noël Royer at right. Caesar was less kind to Vercingetorix than he was to his defeated Roman enemies, or than later Emperors would be to enemies like Zenobia, since he kept him locked up for five years before parading him in Caesar's own Triumph, and executing him at the end of it. Now the dominance of the Franks would begin, and in time Gaul would take their name -- without forgeting, however, Vercingetorix, who was wholly unrelated to them.

Rome and Romania Index

Κύριε, ἐλέησον... ὀρθόδοξον βασιλέα τῇ οἰκουμένῃ...

ἡμεῖς δοῦλοι τῆς αὐγούστας· εὐσεβῆ Κύριε, ζωὴν αὐτῇ· πολλὰ τὰ ἔτη τῆς αὐγούστας· Ἀριάδνη αὐγούστα, σὺ νικᾷς· Ῥωμαίων βασιλέα τῇ οἰκουμένῃ.

Lord have mercy!... An orthodox Emperor for the Empire!...

We are the slaves of the Augusta! Holy Lord, [long] life to her! Many years for the Augusta! Ariadne Augusta, may you be victorious! An Emperor of the Romans for the Empire!

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, "Proclamation of Anastasios (I) of divine memory as emperor," De Ceremoniis, Book I, Chapter 92, Constantine Porphyrogennetos, The Book of Ceremonies, translated by Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall, with the Greek edition of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae (Bonn, 1829), Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Byzantina Australiensia 18, Canberra, 2012, Volume I, pp.418-419; the Empress Ariadne, daughter of Leo I and widow of Zeno, charged with chosing a new Emperor, who will be Anastasius I, 491 AD.

C. THE EAST ALONE, 476-518, 42 Years


Leo I the Thracian
, the Great, , the Bessian, , the Butcher
Flavius Valerius Leo Marcellus
457-474 E
First Emperor Crowned by Patriarch of Constantinople; Joint E/W expedition against Vandals fails, 468; Germans purged, Aspar executed, 471
Leo II
Flavius Leo
473-474 E

Zeno the Isaurian (Tarasikodissa, Tarasis Kodisa, of Rusumblada)
Flavius Zeno
jure uxoris
474-491 E+W
Attack on Constantinople by Theodoric Strabo the Goth, 481; Acacian Schism, 484-519
475-476 E
Fire in Constantinople, destroys Basilica or Imperial Stoa Library, founded by Julian, of 120,000 volumes, and statuary, including the great statue of Zeus from Olympia and the Aphrodite of Cnidus, at the Lauseion Palace, 475

Anastasius I
Flavius Anastasius
jure uxoris
Revolt and pacification of the Isaurians, 492-498; reforms coinage, 498; Attack on Constantiniople by Vitalianus, nominal agent of the Pope, his fleet defeated at Golden Horn, army defeated at Sykai, 515
Leo I purged the Eastern Army of key Germans, bracing it up with Isaurians, previously distinguished for their banditry, and so turned the East away from the process of barbarization that had rendered the Western Army useless -- although the people of Constantinople regarded the Isaurians themselves as barbaric, and there was more than one instance of mob violence and massacre against them. Despite the death toll from the riots probably being greater, Leo's purge of the Army earned him the epithet Μακέλλης, "Butcher"; but this was butchery that finally broke the influence of Germans over the Roman Army and the Throne. Leo was also called a Βῆσσος, "Bessian," identifying his ethnic background from Thrace was with the
Thracian Βῆσσοι, the Bessi.

The purge in particular involved the family of Aspar, of Alan and Gothic descent, with a Persian name. Aspar and his father, Ardaburius, had both been active and successful Roman soldiers. They had led the suppression of the rebellion by the Magister Militum Castinus, and his puppet Emperor John, in Italy, 423-425.

By 450, Aspar, disqualified from the Throne as both a barbarian and an Arian, would become a king-maker, putting forward Marcian, one of his staff, as Emperor. He did the same thing in 457, with Leo the Thracian. The failure of the expedition against the Vandals in 468, however, raised suspicions that Aspar might not have favored its success, while the failure itself gave him leverage over Leo.

Aspar began to aspire to putting his family on the Throne. In 470 he got Leo to make his son, Patricius, a Caesar, and to marry him to Leo's daughter, Leontia. This provoked the people of Constantinople, and the Church. The vow that Patricius would convert from Arian to Orthodox did not entirely quiet things down, and Leo began to plan his coup.

While Aspar and his son Ardaburius were killed, it is not clear what happened to Patricius, although we do not hear of him again; and soon we see Leontia with a different husband (as we see below). Aspar's Gothic followers tried to attack the palace, but Leo had previously prepared a defense, in the form of the Excubitors, one of the first of the Tagmata. The Goths were defeated and decamped to join their fellows in the Balkans. Leo and Zeno had to tolerate, and buy off, Goths in the Balkans for a few more years.

Whether or not Patricius survived the coup, this was not the absolute end of Aspar's family or of Germans in the Roman Army. Aspar's granddaughter Godisthea married into another Romanized Gothic family, that of Areobindus, who had shared the Consulship with Aspar in 434. Her son, also Areobindus, faithfully led armies for the Emperor Anastasius. He married actual Roman nobility, the daughter of the ephemeral Western Emperor Olybrius (of the venerable Anicia gens), whose own wife was a daughter of the Emperor Valentinian III. This was as close as any of the family got to the Throne in Constantinople, although their son, also Olybrius, did achieve the rank of Consul in 491. Obviously, the elder Areobindus was not considered part of the faction of Aspar, and Leo's coup was not just indiscriminately killing Germans.

The Expedition of 468 against the Vandals

A last chance to recoup things for the whole Empire had come with the expedition in 468 against the Vandals, after Leo had gotten Ricimer to accept the Theodosian in-law Anthemius as Western Emperor. A large, joint amphibious campaign was put together to recover Africa. This should have succeeded, but it failed through a combination of incompetence, treachery, or bad luck -- it is not clear whether the Vandal fire ships worked because the Roman fleet was mishandled or because it was helplessly blown onto a lee shore. Roman forces do not seem to have been landed in a timely fashion, which left them vulnerable on the ships. Belisarius did not make such mistakes later, if mistakes they were, rather than betrayal.

Ricimer (like Aspar) may not have really wanted the expedition to succeed, and it wasn't long before he got rid of Anthemius -- who Leo had advised in 471 to assassinate Ricimer as Leo had just done Aspar. But Anthemius either hesitated or did not have the forces or the opportunity. The killer of Anthemius was the interesting Gundobad, who followed Ricimer as Magister Militum but then returned home to rule as a King of Burgundy (473-516).

Later, after Odoacer decided not to bother with a Western Emperor, Leo's Isaurian son-in-law, Zeno, found himself as the first Emperor of a "united" Empire since Theodosius I, but little was left of the West. Only Odoacer in Italy vaguely acknowledged the Emperor's suzerainty -- we don't know what allegiance to Constantinople, if any, remained in the Roman pocket in northern Gaul.

Nothing was done about this at the time, and Anastasius, by temperament or by wisdom, concentrated on allowing the East to rest and build up its strength. Part of that involved reforming the coinage, which is one of the benchmarks for the beginning of "Byzantine" history. The economies of Anastasius left the treasury full (to the delight of Justinian); but taxes, of course, are not always popular. In 512 rioters called for ἄλλον βασιλέα τῇ Ῥωμανίᾳ, "another emperor for Romania!" Anatasius rode this out; and its principal interest for us may be the use of the word Ῥωμανία, which is thus attested in popular language at the time. This is only important because of the practice of Classicists and Byzantinists to ignore the word.

Similarly, such Byzantinists continue to call Romania the "Eastern Roman Empire," or already "Byzantium," even when contemporaries understood that the unity of the Empire had been restored, a term such as "Eastern" was never used, and there was no institutional remant, or even claims, to a continued "Western" Empire. This simply bespeaks a bias and hostility of Western historians to the Emperors in Constantinople, not to mention the shadow of the absurd "Donation of Constantine," and all the claims and ideology of the Papacy and the German Emperors, and later of German nationalism, insensibly perpetuated by Western scholarship.

On the map we see the classic form of the German successor Kingdoms of the Western Empire. By 493 Theodoric the Ostrogoth, invited by the Emperor Anastasius, had taken out Odoacer in Italy. This was just in time to save the Visigoths, who were defeated by the Franks in 507 and pushed out of Gaul. The result has the look of a nice balance of power, but there is no telling how long that might have lasted. What upset things was not any internal development, but a most unexpected revival and return of Roman power. In the beloved story of the "Fall" of Rome, this sequel is usually what gets overlooked.

The Disappearance of the Tria Nomina

Also noteworthy as a benchmark for the beginning of "Byzantine" history in the time of the Leonines, besides the coinage, is the apparent final disappearance of the full, traditional Roman tria nomina, the three names of praenōmen, nōmen, and cognōmen, which have been given with previous Emperors. The last Emperor with three full names may have been Majorian, Julius Valerius Majorianus. In general, the Valentian and Theodosian Emperors only had two names (that I can find), e.g. Valens, Fl. Valens, and Theodosius I & II, both Fl. Theodosius. From Marcian onward there is no evidence of any traditional Roman nomenclature, apart from the perfunctory addition of "Flavius" (Greek Φλάβιος) and some other epithets to many names -- and occasonally, we get a blast, as with Justinian, of multiple names.

Amazing how well the Flavian gens survives over the centuries! Why is this happening? Well, even though it had been some time since the nōmen had any connection to the actual ancestral gentes (singular gens, the clan) of the early Republic, and all the names were becoming like titles or statements, the system of the tria nomina still bore a connection to the idea of the Roman family cult of ancestor worship. As it happens, the names became political titles linked to the purported ancestry of particular, formative Emperors. Thus, everyone who became a citizen in 212 could use the gens Aurelius, as Caracalla himself was "M. Aurelius Antoninus." Elagabalus and Alexander Severus used "Aurelius," and it turns up in Claudius II and, most significantly, as "Aurelianus" in the Emperor we then call "Aurelian."

In turn, Dioceletian was "C. Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus," using "Valerius," actually given as a cognōmen, as the defining name that he would establish for the Tetrarchs -- the Greek versions, Οὐαλέριος and Βαλέριος, may reflect Latin w/v phonology (the digraph ου was for "w," as in Coptic and, for that matter, French -- e.g. oui) and Greek b/v (changing to Mediaeval and Modern Greek phonology), respectively. Diocletian and Maximinus sported the double-barreled "Aurelius Valerius," but a telling development is that the women, as was traditional with the original gentes, used "Valeria" as their principal name. So Diocletian's daughter and granddaughter were each "Valeria," as the daughter of Augustus was "Julia." "Valerius" was used by all legitimate Tetrarchs.

This was also true with Constantius Chlorus, or "Fl. Valerius Constantius" (Φλάβιος Βαλέριος Κωνστάντιος) and Constantine, "Fl. Valerius Constantinus" (Φλάβιος Βαλέριος Κωνσταντῖνος). But that is also the beginning of something rather different. As the Constantian dynasty supplants the Tetrarchs, "Flavius" begins to be used to mark its adherents. But this originates as a praenōmen (traditionally no more than a random given name), not a nōmen, and it continues to be used that way, with the nōmen chosen to signify something else. Thus, Constantine II was "Fl. Claudius Contantinus" and Constans I was "Fl. Julius Constans," with wholly fictional invocations of the Claudian and Julian gentes. This continues through the dynasty, with subsequently Emperors reflexively, and certainly perfunctorily, adding the praenōmen "Flavius." Meanwhile, none of the Constantian women are "Flavia." The preference is for some version of the other names, like "Constantia," or wholly unrelated names, like "Helena." So the traditional pattern is entirely broken.

With the Severans, who, of course, were of Punic and Syrian ancestry, the original meaning of the gens was lost. No Confucian venerated ancestors in a household shrine more devoutly than the original pious Romans. But this could not survive the influx of Romanized foreigners, for whom the gens was meaningless, and especially with the adoption of Christianity, where a household ancestor shrine would be a shocking pagan practice. A Christian receives a single Christian name. Indeed, it is a while before we get names, like Michael or John, that look more Christian than Roman and Greek, as do Jovian, Leo, or Heraclius (still commemorating Heracles -- and so Hera); but the trend is obvious. Indeed, the names beginning with the Valentians aleady look like the pro forma addition of "Flavius" to the single basic name of the Emperors -- even of Aëtius, "Flavius Aëtius." Our Leo I here even used "Flavius Valerius" (Φλάβιος Βαλέριος Λέων), recalling both Constantine and the Tetrarchs. This is all it does. I'm not sure that anyone ever goes that far again.

Eventually we get the return of surnames, at first for nobility. The first Dynasty with a family name will be the Ducases in the 11th century. It took a few more centuries before surnames became common among European Christians of all classes, and then required by law.

Changing Architecture

Another momentous transition is in architecture. The lovely temples of Classical antiquity, like jewels in the landscape, disappear. Christian churches of the period often look like piles of bowls or dark fruitcakes. Or we simply get the basilica, a Roman courthouse. Churches often are not even visible from a distance, because they may be packed around with other buildings.

Why is this happening? Were Christians just anaesthetic? No. The aesthetic was certainly changing, but the most important difference was just the difference in purpose between a temple and a church. A temple was the house of a god, with little space inside but for the god and a few priests. It was not supposed to contain a body of worshipers. The public side of the temple was the exterior, the visible sign of the god's presence.

With a church, however, the purpose was not to house God, whose presence was ineffable, but to house the congregation, the ekklēsía, ἐκκλησία, the "assembly" that gave its name in many modern languages for "church," like French église or Spanish iglesia -- where "church" itself (and Scots "kirk" or German Kirche) seems to be from kyriakos, κυριακός, "of the Lord." The public side of a church is thus the interior, not the exterior, and the outwardly ugliest early churches often contain marvelous inner spaces, with rich decoration. These quickly become awesome spaces, as in Sancta Sophia, for centuries the greatest church of Christendom.

Above, at left, and below we see images from the "Red Monastery," , Dayr al-ʾAḥmar (دَيْرُ ٱلْأَحْمَر), in Upper Egypt -- also known as the , Dayr ʾAmbā Bišāy (دَيْرُ أَنْبَا بِشَاي), the "Monastery of Father Pishay," its founder. The monastery was established in the 4th century and densely decorated in the 5th and 6th. Neglected for centuries, the images were actually preserved by soot and the dry climate. They have now been cleaned and restored by the "Red Monastery Project," benefiting from multiple sources of funding.

The preservation of the colors is remarkable. Many frescoes in Italian churches, at half the age, have decayed or been damaged by flood beyond restoration or even recognition. Where colors are preserved tends to be with mosaics, as at the old churches of Ravenna. So this is a remarkable place. We can also imagine the interior as a refuge from the heat of Egypt. It is a refuge in many ways.

Roman domes could do what most Roman temples did not try to do. In the Red Monastery and San Vitale in Ravenna we see constructions of dome upon dome, or half dome upon half dome. As it happens there was a precedent for this. Hadrian's Pantheon in Rome is undistinguished and unremarkable from the outside yet contains a wonderful interior under the largest dome of pre-modern engineering. We do not see that repeated in Rome itself, but the device was taken up with gusto in later churches. The dome of Sancta Sophia is smaller than that of the Pantheon but used more dramatically. The Pantheon is essentially one large, really nice room. Sancta Sophia holds a vast space -- the 184 foot rise of the dome on its piers can easily contain the 151 foot Statue of Liberty. Centuries of visitors, often from places with no stone buildings, like Northern Europe, found themselves awestruck.

Eventually, a form of church evolved that transformed the basilica into a building with a monumental external face and a monumental internal space.
Ἅγια Σοφία, Sancta Sophia,
Santa Sophia, Aya Sofya
These would be the Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals, but it would be centuries before the technology could handle the spidery supports, of walls pierced with windows and held by buttresses, that both size and relatively lightness required. Then the basilica and the dome would be combined, to produce in the Renaissance the new largest church in Christendom, St. Peter's in Rome. But this would happen as culturally Francia surpassed Romania.

The instructive comparison is with the practice in ʾIslām, where the purpose of a mosque -- , jāmiʿ (جَامِع), "collector," and masjid, مَسْجِد, "place for prayer/prostration" -- was similar to that of a church. This can be seen in the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, based on Syrian churches, which is all but invisible from the outside, hidden in the midst of the city, but contains two marvelous spaces, a courtyard and the lovely interior of the prayer hall, with mosaics as in churches of the time. On the other hand, a monument of the same era, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, stands conspicuously like a pagan temple, high on the Temple Mount itself. But the purpose of the Dome is more like a temple. It was built less for a congregation than for the Rock itself, commemorating the Temple of Solomon and the site of the Prophet Muḥammad's "dream journey" to heaven. Finally, the Ottoman mosques of Sinan (c.1500-1588), based on the model of Sancta Sophia, produce the monumental Islāmic equivalent of the cathedral. At the same time, however, the Ottomans prohibited churches with domes. The style was seized as part of the looting of Constantinople. This may have helped motivate the form of St. Peter's.

Rome and Romania Index

Quod principi placuit, legis habet vigorem: utpote cum lege regia, quae de imperio eius lata est, populus ei et in eum omne suum imperium et potestatem conferat.

Whatever the Emperor has decreed [i.e. pleases the prince] has the force of law; since by a Royal ordinance which was passed concerning his sovereignty, the people conferred upon him all their own authority and power.

A decision given by the emperor has the force of a statute. This is because the populace commits to him and into him its own entire authority and power, doing this by the lex regia which is passed anent his authority.

Justinian, Digest, 1.4.1; S. P. Scott, The Civil Law, II, Cincinnati, 1932 [Alan Watson, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985, Revised English-language edition, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998]; noteworthy that the power of the Emperor, although absolute in principle, derives from the people, not from himself or from God -- there is no "Divine Right" in Roman law; and when the people pronounce an Emperor ἀνάξιος, "unworthy," that may be the end of him.

The Franks [Φράγγοι] are not nomads, as some barbarians are, but their politeia [πολιτεία, res publica] and laws are modeled on the Roman pattern, apart from which they uphold similar standards with regard to contracts, marriage and religious observance. They are in fact all Christians and adhere to the strictest orthodoxy. They also have magistrates in their cities and priests and celebrate the feasts in the same way as we do; and, for a barbarian people, strike me as extremely well-bred and civilized and as practically the same as us except for their uncouth [βαρβαρικόν, barbarikòn] style of dress and peculiar [ἰδιάζον, idiázon] language. I admire them for their other attributes and especially for the spirit of justice and harmony which prevails amongst them.

Agathias of Myrina (c.532-c.582 AD), Histories, 1.2.3-5, quoted by Anthony Kaldellis, The Byzantine Republic, People and Power in New Rome [Harvard University Press, 2015, pp.67 & 222], cf. Gibbon on the "Greeks."

ἡ δὲ κἀκ τριῶν τρυπημάτων ἐργαζομένη ἐνεκάλει τῇ φύσει, δυσφορουμένη ὅτι δὴ μὴ καὶ τοὺς τιτθοὺς αὐτῇ εὐρύτερον ἢ νῦν εἰσι τρυπώη, ὅπως καὶ ἄλλην ἐνταῦθα μίξιν ἐπιτεχνᾶσθαι δυνατὴ εἴη.

And though she made use of three openings, she used to take Nature [φύσις] to task, complaining that it had not pierced her breasts [τιτθοί] with larger holes so that it might be possible for her to contrive another method of copulation [μῖξις] there.

Procopius, Procopius VI, The Anecdota or Secret History, translated by H.B. Dewing [Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1935, pp.108-109], speaking of the Empress Theodora in her days as a courtesan (ἑταῖρα).

D. RETURNING TO THE WEST, 518-610, 92 years

Justin I

Flavius Iustinus
End of Acacian Schism, 519; earthquake at Antioch, 526
St. Justinian I

Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus, Peter Sabbataeus
Plato's Academy closed, 529; Nika Revolt, 532; North Africa regained from Vandals, 533-534; Rome regained (#1), "Year without Summer," 536; end of dating by Consuls, 537; Ostrogoths surrender, Belisarius occupies Ravenna, 540; Bubonic Plague, 541-545; Ostrogoths revive, 541; Rome lost, sacked, 546 (#2); Rome regained, 547 (#3); silkworm eggs arrive from China, 550; Rome lost, 549 (#4); Earthquake in Lebanon, Beirut devastated, tsunami destroys Κῶς, Kôs, on the island of Κῶς, 551; Ostrogoths defeated by Narses at Busta Gallorum or Taginae, Rome regained, 552 (#5); Council V, Constantinople II, Monophysitism condemned again, 553; Andalusia regained from Visigoths, 554; return of Plague, 558; defeat of Bulgars & Slavs by Belisarius, 559; Ponte Salario at Rome restored by Narses, 565
Justin II
Flavius Justinus Junior
Lombards Invade Italy, 568; return of Plague, 573
Tiberius II

Flavius Tiberius Constantinus
jure uxoris
574-578, Caesar; 578-582, Augustus
Sirmium besieged by Avars, Slavs invade Balkans, delegation from Rome to ask for help against Lombards, 579; Sirmium ceded to Avars, sack of Athens by Slavs, 582

Flavius Mauricius Tiberius
jure uxoris
Founding of Monembasia, , 583; Slavs attack Thessalonica, return of Plague, 586; Avars defeated four times north of Danube, return of Plague, 599; famine, troops on Danube mutiny, Maurice & family murdered, 602

Flavius Phocas
Senate in Rome ceases to meet, 602; Column of Phocas, last Imperial monument in the Forum of Rome, 608; Revolt and Civil War, 608-610
Justinian, who had helped his stolid uncle Justin and then inherited the Empire from him, took the rested strength of the East and threw it, commanded by his great general Belisarius, against the
Vandals and Ostrogoths.

Against the Vandals, the expedition consisted of 500 transport ships, conveying 10,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Ninety-two warships, δρόμων galleys, escorted the fleet. The Vandals, caught off guard, collapsed quickly, although with some close battles.
Justinian, holding the panier of the Host (of the Eucharist), and Courtiers, with Maximianus, Archbishop of Ravenna (546-556), named
Theodora, holding the Chalice of the Eucharist (otherwise forbidden to women), and Courtiers
547 AD, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, 2019

After a more protracted campaign, including a siege of Naples, which Belisarius took by entering through an aqueduct, and a siege of Belisarius in Rome by the Ostrogoths, who cut the aqueducts, Belisarius moved on Ravenna. In 540 the Ostrogoths surrendered, in part with the (deceptive) understanding that Belisarius would rule them. But Belisarius then had to rush East to meet a Persian invasion. He was too late. Khusro I had already sacked Antioch (540).

Then in 541 the resistance of the Ostrogoths revived, and the plague hit the Empire. The campaign in Italy then took another 11 years, with men and money very short. Belisarius was sometimes down to operating with 2000 men. What he was able to do with his limited resources is a tribute to his genius -- very different from generals, like George McClellan (1826-1885), who, flush with troops, excuse their inaction with pleas for reinforcements.

Finally, with an overland invasion and a superior force, the Ostrogoths were defeated by Narses at Busta Gallorum in 552. Totila was killed in the pursuit of the fleeing Goths. Successful, if exhausted, the Romans were able to secure Italy and then part of southern Spain from the Visigoths.
Drawing by Nimphyrios in 1430, bronze equestrian victory statue of Justinian, on the Column of Justinian in the Augustaeum, Constantinople, 543; peacock feathered "toupha," τοῦφα, globus cruciger, called the "apple," symbolic of conquest to the Ottomans; statue removed by Ottomans, fragments examined by travelers, column destroyed, 1515, statue melted down.
The Vandal King Gelimer and the Gothic King Vitiges were both provided estates for quiet retirement in Anatolia.

However, this long fight did more damage to Italy and the City of Rome than the previous period of barbarian invasions. As noted, the Ostrogoths cut the aqueducts into Rome when they had put Belisarius under siege in their counterattack, where sometimes this is falsely presented or mentioned as part of the original barbarism of the original Gothic invasions. Belisarius, of course, held out, although Rome would end up changing hands no less than five times.

Although the Goths revived in 541, they never regained Ravenna; but under Totila they returned to Rome, and, with Belisarius absent in the East, the City was betrayed to them (by unpaid soliders) in 546. Totila, after some looting and mayhem, contemplated demolishing the City but thought better of it after an appeal from Belisarius and others (although it it hardly seems like a task, in size or toil, for tribal Ostrogoths). Nevertheless, the City was left all but depopulated.

After Totila left on campaign, Belisarius, back from the East, then regained Rome in 547, which was then again put under siege. Recalled finally to the East, Belisarius had to endure from a distance the second betrayal of the City (by unpaid soldiers again) and its recoccupation by Totila, in 549. With Ravenna unavailable, Totila settled on Rome as his capital; and so it remained until his defeat and death. This was the last time that Rome would be the capital of a secular state until 1870.

Historians tend to blame Justinian for the destruction to Rome and Italy, as though he should have left well enough alone, with the Goths in control, while somehow the passivity and incompetence of the previous defenders of the West draw little criticism --
Gate of the Basilica of San Vitale,
Ravenna, 2019
despite confabulations that barbarians broke into Rome in battle and overthrew the last Western Emperor -- in a scene like Constantinople in 1453 -- in 476. If Honorius and his successors had fought with the ferocity and brilliance of Belisarius and Narses, the Western Empire might not have collapsed in the first place. But that is not what someone like Honorius was.

One may begin to suspect that bias against "Byzantium" is operating in this with the idea that Justinian and Belisarius were not Romans, were "foreigners" -- Greeks (although Justinian wasn't) -- and so actually had no right or reason to be invading Italy for any reason. Like Liutprand of Cremona and Edward Gibbon, they may see the Goths as true "Romans" and all Germans, especially the German Emperors, as the proper heirs and successors of (pagan) Rome -- with the irony that those in Gibbon's own lineage, like William Smith (1813-1893), themselves despised the Papacy and the Catholic Church, which promoted these distortions, for its own self-interested reasons, in the first place.

With reduced resources, and with the Plague substantially reducing the population of the Empire, Justinian and his generals gave the Goths a fight that they had never gotten from any of the Last Western Emperors.
Column of Phocas, last monument in the Forum Romanum
And it was a fight indeed. After Totila's death, Goth holdouts massacred 300 Roman hostages of the Senatorial class, substantially contributing to the decline of local government in the City. The Goths, in turn, ended up all but annihilated, and their remnants disappear from history. This is what Theodosius I should have done originally to the Visigoths. Any cost would have been worth it. As it happened, when Rome was secured again to the Empire, its own story quickly becomes that of the Papacy, with the Exarch off in Ravenna and the Pope the principal public official left in the City.

Meanwhile, Justinian had built the greatest church in Christendom, Sancta Sophia, Ἅγια Σοφία, codified Roman Law, and driven the last pagans, at Plato's Academy, out of business. This all wore out the Empire, but it could easily have recovered to new strength if further blows had not fallen.
Ἅγια Σοφία, Sancta Sophia,
Santa Sophia, Aya Sofya
The Lombards invaded Italy in 568; and although they were unable to secure the whole peninsula, or the major cities (except in the Po valley), they became a source of constant conflict for most of the next two hundred years. The fragmentation of Italy they effected persisted until the 19th century [note].

At the same time, the Danube frontier had become very insecure. As early as 540 (again) Bulgars and Slavs were raiding into the Balkans. Maurice not only restored the frontier but crossed it to apply the "forward defense" of the Early Empire. Unfortunately, this hard campaigning became unpopular with the troops; and in 602, and when Maurice decided to have the troops winter north of the Danube, they murdered Maurice and his whole family. Under Phocas, things began to unravel. The Persians began the campaign that would net them the Asiatic part of the Empire, recreating the Persia of the Achaeminids, and the Danube frontier collapsed so completely that it would not be restored for almost four hundred years. If only Maurice had been popular with the troops, history might have been much different.

Belisarius & the Duke of Marlborough

Belisarius, Βελισάριος (d.565), was the Duke of Marlbourgh of the 6th Century. There are several points of comparison. First, for the military genius of both of them, although Marlbourgh may have been more consistently successful, as Belisarius suffered some defeats and inconclusive campaigns. Like Marlborough, Belisarius could patch together new strategies after setbacks and could accomplish much with reduced resources.

Second, just as Sarah Churchill was for long the close friend of Queen Anne, Belisarius's wife Antonina, Ἀντωνίνα, was similarly close to the Empress Theodora. Unlike Sarah, however, Antonina was rumored to be unfaithful to Belisarius, but her relationship with Theodora does not seem to have soured as did Sarah's with Anne. Third, as Anne eventually turned on Sarah and then the Duke, Justinian was sometimes suspicious of Belisarius and withdrew his support.

In the end, Justinian still needed Belisarius. He was recalled from retirement in 559 to stop an invading army of Bulgars. With few resources, he did.

In 562 Belisarius was tried and imprisoned for "corruption," in what was certainly a political prosecution. Justinian then pardoned him, but the legend arose later that Justinian had blinded Belisarius and reduced him to begging. This would have been more extreme than what happened to Malborough; but since it does not seem to have been true (and it was only later that blinding began to be used as a punishment), Malborough's prosecution and exile looks like the worse betrayal.

The story of Justinian, Belisarius, and their wives is confused by the spleen of Procopius, whose Secret History vents his inexplicable animus against them all. Perhaps more historians, writing about their patrons -- and Procopius followed Belisarius for many years as his personal secretary -- feel this way but never express it. Since Procopius says that Justinian and Theodora were demons who walked around at night carrying their detached heads, it is hard to know where the history ends and the fantasy begins.

All of this, however, provides considerable grist for historical fiction, in which Belisarius and the others have often figured. Nevertheless, Belisarius is still not as well known as other generals in history, and the drama and intrigues of Justinian's court, especially with strong and vivid women like Theodora, do not seem to have drawn the dramatic attention that one might expect, certainly not from Hollywood -- perhaps because of a general neglect and estrangement from the Mediaeval history of Romania. Even so, television viewers of the popular series NCIS see the name of Belisarius every week, in the "Belisarius Productions" title of creator Donald Bellisario, whose name, of course (in Italian), itself recalls that of the great general.

As noted above, when the treasures taken by Titus from Herod's Temple in Jerusalem were recovered from the Vandals in 533, they were sent back to Constantinople. According to Procopius, the treasures were being carried in the Triumph of Belisarius when a Jew recognized them and passed word to the Emperor that keeping them in Constantinople would be inauspicious.
Mosaics of the Basilica of San Vitale, including Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, Ravenna, 2019
Their removal from Jerusalem had brought misfortune on Rome and then on the Vandals. So Justinian "became afraid and quickly sent everything to the sanctuaries of the Christians in Jerusalem" [Procopius, History of the Wars, II, Book IV, ix 5-10, translated by H.B. Dewing, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1916, 2006, p.281].

There, if the treasures indeed arrived, they disappear from history. There is no reason not to think that they would have been safely kept, but the city was then captured, looted, and destroyed by the Persians in 614.

At that point many treasures, like the True Cross, were carried off to Ctesiphon (though returned after the victory of Heraclius in 628). There is no mention, however, of the fate of anything, generally or specifically, from the Temple in Jerusalem. Since the Jews of Jerusalem were said to have helped the Persians (some question this, since the Persians were persecuting their own Jews), it is possible they took charge of their own treasures, but there is no report of that, and no further historical report at all about the fate of the objects -- except perhaps for the fabulous stories about the Templars, who supposedly found many things in Jerusalem, though these reports are from much later and of an incredible character. The great Menôrāh, מְנוֹרׇה, of the Temple, described in detail by Josephus and shown on the Arch of Titus, is certainly not something to be easily overlooked.
Mosaics of the Basilica of San Vitale, including Moses removing his sandals at the Burning Bush, Ravenna, 2019

Procopius, unfortunately, does not detail which items were among the treasures recovered by Belisarius. If the Menôrāh was there, any Jew of Constantinople certainly would have recognized it quickly and easily. We are thus left with a considerable mystery, and it is a little surprising that there are not, at least, legends about the fate of the Temple items.

One possibility concerns Procopius' reference to "the sanctuaries of the Christians." This could mean all sorts of things and generally has been interpreted at referring to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. However, Justinian himself was building a large new church in Jerusalem, which actually came to the called the "New," Nea, Church. This was later demolished by the Arabs, but its substructure survives under the Jewish Quarter of Jersualem. That substructure includes a vast cistern, such as Justinian also built in Constantinople. This has suggested to some that crypts of the church may also survive, possibly with items like Temple treasures, which might have been hidden from both Persian and Arab invasions.

By the time the Templars arrived in Jerusalem, they might not even have been aware that the Nea Church had existed -- the cistern was only discovered by Israeli archaeologists after 1967. It seems like a thin hope, but since the Arabs don't report finding any Temple treasures, and no Jewish source mentions taking possession of them, the Nea Church is the sole remaining lead.

While we are mostly still looking at Latin names here -- Justinus, Justinianus, Tiberius -- and Justinian's first language was still Latin, or at least the Proto-Romance language spoken in the Balkans at the time, these are Emperors whose names will primarily be remembered in Greek. So I give the Greek versions. Also, while Justinian is remembered as a Saint in the Orthodox Church, the Latin Church had less use for him, despite its dependance on the Latin Law that Justinian codified. So there is little warmth in Francia for Justinian, and no rulers there ever used his name.

The Plague & Dark Ages Cooling

The arrival of the Plague in Egypt in October 541 was the beginning of an epidemic that cost the City of Constantinople alone perhaps 200,000 citizens. The percentages of people who died in the Empire may compare with those of the Black Death in the 14th century, though by then the population of Europe had grown much larger. Justinian himself contracted the disease, but recovered.
Flying Buttress, later standard on Gothic Cathedrals, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, 2019

There is no doubt that this was the Bubonic plague. The historian Procopius describes it with clinical accuracy, especially the characteristic black swellings, the buboes -- a Greek word, βουβῶνες, that Procopius uses, perhaps for the first time for this disease. But the Plague was not the only problem.

The climate was changing -- this may indeed have precipitated the plague, driving rats and fleas out of the colder north down to more agreeable conditions around the Mediterranean. After what is now called the "Roman Warming," we get into the "Dark Ages Cooling." The tree ring record of 540 in Ireland is that "the trees stopped growing." Procopius said that, "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year [536], and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear nor such as it is accustomed to shed" [translated by H.B. Dewing, Procopius, History of the Wars, II, Book IV, xiv 5-6, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1916, 2006, p.329]. Other records give similar accounts.

The dimness of the sun may be from increased, thin cloud cover, from changes in solar output, volcanic debris, or other causes. Indeed, ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland show a sharp spike in volcanic gasses in 535. It is of such magnitude as to indicate a major eruption. Since the eruption of Mt. Tambora in 1815 resulted in a "year without summer," it is not hard to imagine the eruption of one of the major Indonesian volcanoes (or elsewhere) producing similar results for 535-536.

The source of the volcanic "Dark Age" signature was for long not identified, but it has now credibly been attributed to Mt. (or Lake) Ilopango in El Salvador, which seems to have experienced a cataclysmic eruption around 535 or 536. Thinking a lot about Indonesia, or the Aegean, for such eruptions, Ilopango is a bit startling. And now we learn that, not far away, the El Chichón volcano in Mexico seems to have erputed in 540 AD. A one-two punch. This all also throws some light on Mayan history, since all life would have been exterminated in at least the area of modern El Salvador, Southern Mexico, and more, which was part of Mayan civilization. There seems to have been a serious insult to the flourishing of the city of Tikal, at least, around this time. The eruption of Ilopango was at least as powerful as Krakatoa in 1883 or Pinatubo in 1991, but not as big as Tambora. The El Chicón eruption may have been comparable in magnitude to Ilopango.

It is not clear that the eruptions alone would produce the effects seen over many years, for the weather would be colder and the growing season shorter for some time (as noted for 540). The worst effects of weather on Mayan civilization also seem to occur later. The eruption may have reinforced (or initiated) what was already a cooling trend. Whatever the cause, the climate would adversely impact the population at a time, on top of the deaths from the Plague (whose movement of rats may have been caused by the cooling), when the lack would gravely affect the fate of the Empire.

Without the manpower to put down the Ostrogoths more swiftly and effectively, Justinian devastated Italy in a way that would not have otherwise been necessary and that had not been effected by the original "barbarian invasions" as such. Rome was briefly depopulated, not by the Visigoths in 410 or by the Vandals in 455, and certainly not by the Ostrogoths in 493, but by the more than decade of fighting that it took for the Roman reconquest, when the city changed hands five times and the aqueducts were cut in sieges.

If plague and climate change were not enough, there were also earthquakes. A particularly strong one was in 551, estimated to have had a magnitude of about 7.5, primarily affecting the coast of Lebanon. Beirut was hit hard enough that its prestigious law school had to be moved to Sidon. 30,000 people were said to have been killed. A tsunami also damaged, if not destroyed, other Lebanese cities; and, of course, it propagated to the West. There it is supposed to have destroyed the city of Κῶς, Cos, on the island of Κῶς. In the draw down for the tsunami, the sea is reported to have retreated as much as two miles. Some sunken ships were actually exposed; and, as in similar events, naive people wandered out to inspect or loot the wrecks, only be to helplessly caught in the returning flood.

Another earthquake, in 557, was centered near Constantinople, with a magnitude of perhaps 6.4, causing damage in the City, including a crack in the dome of Sancta Sophia, which led to its collapse a year later. The Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, in 1994, which I experienced, was a 6.7 magnitude.

The Nika Revolt

Before Justinian launched Belisarius into the West, there was the noteworthy disturbance of the Nika Revolt in 532. This began in the Hippodrome and was named after the call for victory -- Νίκα Νίκα, Nika! Nika! -- of the chariot racing factions, the Blues and the Greens. The Emperor often appeared at the Hippodrome in the Imperial Box, the κάθισμα, or "Throne," which was connected to the Great Palace by an enclosed passageway -- allowing the Emperor to discretely and safely arrive and depart.

I have been a little confused about this word. "Victory" is actually νίκη, níkē, in Attic Greek, and the epithet of the goddess Ἀθήνη Νίκη, Athena Nike, whose small temple graces the Acropolis in Athens. But νίκα, níkā, is the word that was reportedly used. One possibility is that this is just νίκη in the Doric dialect that Byzantium inherited as a colony of the Doric city of Megara -- although the population by the 6th century must be far removed from the customs of the original colonists. The Doric word may have been retained as a local tradition. Or, νίκα may not be a noun at all, but the imperative of the verb νικάω, "to conquer, prevail, vanguish," so that the crowd shouts "conquer," or just "win" to their chariot driver. This now seems more likely to me.

There was considerable unhappiness about the efficiency with which Justinian's officials had been collecting taxes. The revolt and riots, through looting and fire, destroyed a good part of the city, including the old church of Sancta Sophia. Justinian was ready to flee, until Θεοδώρα, Theodora, put some spine into him. Excusing herself, a woman, for reminding the men of courage, she is supposed to have said, "the Purple makes the noblest shroud."

Unfortunately, like many other famous quotes in history, this is not quite right. According to Procopius, Theodora said, "Royalty [Βασιλεία, basileía] is a beautiful shroud" [Procopius, History of the Wars, I, Book I, xxiv 37-38, translated by H.B. Dewing, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1914, 2001, p.232-233]. In the same speech however, she did say, "I will not be separated from this Purple" -- ἁλουργίς, halourgís, specifically a purple robe [p.230-231 -- see the grammar of this statement].

Ἅγια Σοφία, Sancta Sophia,
Santa Sophia, Aya Sofya
The traditional misquotation thus deftly combines two actual quotations. This is one of the most famous statements ever about the "Purple" -- i.e. the Tyrian Purple, πορφύρα, porphýra, of Roman Imperial Robes -- although we also have the kind of stone, Porphyry, that was used in association with the Throne, both for statues of the Emperors and for structures like the lying-in pavillion for pregnant Empresses.

Justinian, thus encouraged, or shamed, put down the revolt. Belisarius surrounded the Hippodrome and massacred everyone in it (perhaps 30,000 people!). Justinian was remembered for these deaths, despite being recognized as a Saint by the Orthodox Church. Because of the damage done to the City, Justinian launched ambitious building projects, including that for the magnificient new Sancta Sophia -- which helped secure his sanctity -- as did the discovery of the looting Crusaders that his body was incorruptible.

The Introduction of Sericulture

Around the year 550 we hear that a couple of Nestorian monks arrive from China with an interesting cargo. For all the earlier centuries of the Roman Empire, Romans had sent gold East through Central Asia and received back silk, the nature of which they were entirely ignorant. The route of this trade has become known, in modern times, as the "Silk Road." From Roman authors we hear nothing about the destination of the gold or the source of the silk. From the Chinese history of the Later Han Dynasty, however, as noted above, we hear that a Roman embassy arrived in China in 166 AD, specifically to try and arrange an alternate route for the silk trade. This was not worked out until much later. We see China identified as Σηρίνδα, "Sērínda," its people as Σῆρες, "Sēres," and so the word for "silken" as σηρικός, "sērikós." Hence, "sericulture."

Eventually, Christian missionaries arrived in China. These were at first Nestorians, who had an advanced base as residents of Sassanid Persian, which monopolized the Western end of the trade. The first notice we have from the Chinese is the appearance of the Nestorians in the T'ang Court in 635 AD. This is in the century after the events of Justinian's reign, but it is possible, if not likely, that the missionaries were already in China, during the troubled Northern and Southern Empires period (266-589), before the T'ang Dynasty was consolidated and took note of them. In any case, the secrets of sericulture and the possession of the eggs of silkworms were closely guarded by the Chinese government.

As related by Procopius, the story we get is that the Nestorian missionaries arrived in Constantinople from India and told Justinian that they had visited China and had learned the secrets of silk making:

...certain worms are the manufacturers of silk [μέταξα], nature being their teacher and compelling them to work continually. [History of the Wars, Book VIII.vii.3, Loeb Classical Library, Procopius V, translated by H.B. Dewing, 1928, pp.228-299]

The silk worms could not be transported, but their eggs could. With the commission of Justinian, the monks were able to return to China and smuggle out eggs inside bamboo canes. Cultivating the eggs and harvesting the silk proved successful, feeding the worms with "the leaves of the mulberry [συναμίνου]." And so, at long last, Romania, despite the cultural decline of the Dark Ages, acquired its own domestic source of silk, μέταξα. Gold no longer needed to be sent to China.

The planting of mulberry trees for sericulture is supposed to have given the Peloponnesus its later Mediaeval name. The word used by Procopius for mulberry, συναμίνος, came to be replaced by μορέα. Hence, the Peloponnesus became ἡ Μωρέας, the Morea.

Kyle Harper seems to express some skepticism about all this:

Only chemical analysis of Byzantine silks will eventually reveal if this act of daring corporate espionage was really successful. [The Fate of Rome, Climate, Disease, & the End of an Empire, Princeton, 2017, 2019, p.216]

Since there is no doubt that the Peloponnesus was planted with mulberry trees, and that a Roman silk industry was created, it is not clear why Harper should wonder if this was "really successful." At the same time, the very information about silk worms and their diet of mulberry leaves carries the truth of the account on its face. If nothing else, a Chinese state secret had made its way to the Roman Court.

Not only is there an undoubted presence of sericulture in the Peloponnesus, but this spread West later on. We find a silk industry in Sicily in the 11th century. Perhaps Kyle Harper didn't know about this. That industry was expanded when the Norman King of Sicily, Roger II, attacked Corinth and Thebes in 1147. Silk workers were kidnapped and deported to Sicily and Calabria along with mulberry crops and production machinery. Silk weavers even arrived from Constantinople after the sack of the city in 1204. In the 15th Century, production in Sicily was improved when "white" mulberrry trees were introduced from China, which were better then the "black" trees already used. In short order, production and the silk industry spread to other locations in Italy.

Ῥοχούδι τε καὶ Μονεμβασία

The collapse of the Danube frontier against the Avars, substantively and symbolically beginning with the fall of Sirmium in 579, resulted, not only in Avar raids and conquests in the Balkans, but a flood of Slavic migration. This would permanently inundate the areas that would become Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia. At the time, however, Slavic incursions and settlements extended far down into Greece, over much of the Peloponnesus, and even, by 623, to Crete. Most of Greece was no longer Greek, something noted by travelers and historians for the next couple of centuries (589-807).

In the course of this, many Greeks were massacred or deported by the Avars, but others fled. The inhabitants of Patras (Πάτραι, Patrae; Πάτρας, Patras; Modern Greek Πάτρα, Patra -- where I took a ferry to Italy in 1970), on the north coast of the Peloponnesus relocated to Rhegium in Calabria. Many Laconians, from the ancient area around Sparta, actually moved to Sicily.

Fragments of Magna Graecia, Greek Italy, survive today. The village of Roghudi Vecchio in Calabria, Ῥοχούδι in Greek, built along a precipitous ridgeline between often dry riverbeds, was finally abandoned in 1973, after earthquakes and floods, and the inhabitants, the Griko, moved to Roghudi Nuovo, 40km away. The Calabrian dialect of Greek, or Grecanico, was spoken there, now dying out among the young.

Similarly, in Salento (Σαλέντο), the heel of Italy, another dialect of Greek, the Salentine, has been spoken at Grecìa Salentina, like Roghudi, well protected in the mountains. As we will see on the maps below, Calabria and Salento were often the last redoubts of Romania when her fortunes were lowest in the extreme South of Italy.

Argument continues whether these dialects of Greek go all the way back to the original, Ancient Greek colonization of Italy, or whether they only date to the Middle Ages, as with the migration of Greeks in the 7th century. It seems likely that what we get is a mixture of both.

In 583, other Laconians, led by their Bishop, fatefully sought refuge on a small formidable island on the south-eastern peninsula of Laconia, which ends at Cape Maleas (Ἀκρωτήριον Μαλέας, Καβομαλιάς, or Μαλέαι).

Connected by a small spit of land at low tide to the mainland, subsequently built into a causeway, this became Μονεμβασία, Monembasia (or Monemvasia), "One Way In," the "Gibraltar of the East."

The town and fortress would become a permanent Roman stronghold and naval base. Monembasia would change hands several times in the troubled times after the arrival of the Fourth Crusade and would finally survive as the last possession of the Despot, Δεσπότης, of the Morea, the last piece of Romania and the Roman Empire, after the Fall of Constantinople, until ceded to the Papacy in 1461, the rest of Romania having fallen to the Turks.

Above we see Monembasia at a later period, when it was under the control of the Venetians (1684). It remained a strategically important location until retaken by the Turks in 1715. Then it disappears from history. The modern site is a little out of the way but is still a striking location.

Exarchs of Ravenna
Smaragdusc.585-589, 603-611
RomanusExarch, 589-596/8
GeorgiusPraetorian Prefect, 591-593, 595
GregoriusPraetorian Prefect, 595
John I LemigiusPraetorian Prefect, 598, Exarch, 611/615-
615/616, killed
CallinicusExarch, 596-603
Eleutherius616-619, d.620
Revolts, killed by
own soldiers
Gregorios I619-625
The iussio, Imperial confirmation of Papal election, delegated to Exarch of Ravenna, 620
Isaac the Armenian625-643
Theodore I Calliopas643-645, 653-666?
in Rebellion, 649
Gregorios IIc.666-678?
Theodore II678-687
John II Platinus678-701, murdered
Imperial ratification of Papal elections abolished, 684/685; End of Schism over Fifth Ecumenical Council, 698
John IIIc.705-710?
John Rizocopos710-711
Paul the Patrician, Paulicius723-726/7
Tax Revolt in Italy, Exarch Paulicius assassinated, first Doge of Venice, 727
Ravenna falls to Lombards, 751
Basilica di Sant'Apollinaire Nuovo, Ravenna, 2019
With the return of Roman power to the West, new arrangements of government emerge. Justinian abolished the dioceses. The effective Imperial governers of Italy and Africa are the Masters of Soldiers of the Armies of Italy and Africa.

By the time of Maurice, the Master comes to be called the Exarch, Ἔξαρχος ("out-ruler"), and Italy and Africa themselves are each an Exarchate. Still the capital of Italy under the Ostrogoths, Ravenna, Ῥάβεννα, becomes a Roman capital again, not of a Western Empire, but just for the Exarchate.

The land connection of Ravenna to Rome was by way of the Via Flaminia (Flaminian Way), through Spoleto (Spoletum, Spoletium), and the Via Amerina (Amerinan Way), by way of Perugia (Perusia). People call it the "Byzantine Corridor."

This became contested with the Lombard invasion of Italy in 568. The occupation of Spoleto by Lombard Dukes cut off the connection though the Via Flaminia. The Via Amerina remained open, and a Roman Duke was established at Perugia, which became the Ducatus (Duchy of) Perusiae. The Duke was sometimes even a Lombard defector, like Duke Maurisius under the Exarch Romanus -- but who was killed by the Lombard King Agilulf (591-615). Perugia finally fell to the Lombards in 752, after Ravenna itself had fallen in 751.

Mosaic of Christ above the Altar of the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, 2019

Justinian lavished classic artwork on the city which survives until today. Indeed, the most familiar portraits of Justinian and Theodora are from mosaics in the Church of San Vitale, featured above. I use some of the other images to illustrate Biblical stories, like Moses at the burning bush here, and the sacrifice of Isaac here. Centuries later, on a visit to Ravenna in 1903, the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, whose father was a goldsmith, was so taken with the golden background of Justinian's mosaics that he began to lay gold leaf on many of his paintings, which remain distinctive today.

Another kind of monument to Ravenna is the anonymous Ravenna Cosmography, Ravennatis Anonymi Cosmographia, dated to around 700 AD. This is largely a catalogue of place names, from India to Ireland, centered on Ravenna (rather than Rome or Jerusalem). A noteworthy matter is that the author joins a few other writers, like Lactantius, in Constantine's day, and the voyager Cosmas Indicopleustes, in Justinian's day, and St. Isidore of Seville (c.560-636), in thinking that the Earth is flat. The author, however, was acute enough to realize that this created a puzzle about where the sun goes at night. That had been answered more than a thousand years earlier by Anaximander of Miletus, who first proposed that the Earth was a finite body floating in space, while evidence for a spherical Earth had been detailed by Aristotle. But the Ravenna Cosmographer must examine various pointless theories to the contrary, without, in the end, being sure what to say. But we see that all these clueless writers, from Lactantius to the Cosmographer, have nothing like a background in natural philosophy. Lactantius just could not wrap his mind around the idea that the sun remains in space but goes under the Earth. This still confuses some people. It's always noon somewhere. Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) announced that India would become independent at midnight, "when the world sleeps," when, of course, most of the world was doing nothing of the sort.

The list of Exarchs, from the time of Maurice to the Lombard conquest, covers 167 years -- the time from George Washington to Dwight Einsenhower. I have seen unproblematic lists of Exarchs elsewhere, but we see a more complex picture, not unlike that of Carthage below, in Ravenna, Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe, by Judith Herrin [Princeton, 2020, pp.xxv-xxvii]. There is considerable uncertainty in many dates, and uncertainty even about titles like Exarch and the subordinate Praetorian Prefect. Some names are only known from remains of official seals, and Herrin can only give these without dates.

I try to combine Herrin's treatment, which seems rather thorough, with alternative dates I have seen in other sources. Overlapping dates may be explained if one person is the Exarch and another the Praetorian Prefect; but this is not always clear. Also, others do not seem to think that John III and John Rizocopos are actually different persons; and it is odd that Herrin's "Stephanos" would have tenure until a year before the fall of the city. Perhaps he was only the Prefect, but Herrin does not clarify this.

The Fall of Ravenna to the Lombards, putting the Popes at their mercy, sets off formative events. The Pope appeals to the Franks, who come to the rescue. The rest of Western European history follows.

Archbishops of Ravenna

In Africa, the Exarchate was centered at Carthage, Greek Καρχηδών, Latin Carthago, which enters its last phase as a player in Roman history. With less to show for its life in this period, the city fell to the Arabs in 698 and 705. Afterwards, Carthage itself, although not deliberately destroyed as the Romans once did (but suffering greatly in the Arab attacks), simply fades from history. Nearby Tunis becomes the local metropolis -- perhaps in line with the Arab policy seen elsewhere of withdrawing capitals away from the immediate coast, although Tunis is nowhere near as removed as, for instance, Cairo (Fusṭāṭ).
Exarchs of Carthage
Gennadius IMagister Militum of Africa, c.578
Exarch, 585/592–598, d.600
Heraclius the Elder, Crispus598/602–611
NicetasPrefect, 611/619-627/629
Gregory the Patrician627629-633, 641-647/648
in Rebellion, 646/647; Omayyad Invasion, 647; Gregory killed at Sufetula, 647/648
Gennadius II647/48–665
Overthrown in rebellion against Constans II, flees to Damascus
Eleutherius the Younger655-695
Omayyad Invasion, 663/5-689; Qayrawān founded, 663/4, 670?; Arab army reaches the Atlantic, annihilated by Berber Kusayla, 683; Cyrenaica recovered, 688; Arabs return under Ḥassān ʾibn ʾal-Nuʿmān ʾal-Ghassānī, 692
John the Patrician695-698/703
Carthage falls, 697; Berber al-Kāhina defeats Arabs, naval force of John the Patrician recaptures Carthage, 698
Count JulianCeuta, 698-709/711
Kāhina defeated, 702; Carthage desroyed, 705; Julian surrenders, collaborates with Arabs; Arab Conquest of North Africa, 711

Note that Tunisia was the Roman province of Africa, which subsequently became Arabic , ʾIfrīqiyā (إِفْرِيقِيَا). The application of the term to the whole continent, previously called "Libya," Λιβύη, since Herodotus, came later. See discussion of these names here.

I have not found anything like an authoritative list of the Exarchs of Carthage, although we know that the father of the Emperor Heraclius, called Heracltius the Elder, was Exarch when Heraclius sailed East to overthrow the Emperor Phocas in 610. He died soon after news arrived of his son's success. After Heraclius, the record gets very spotty. There are gaps and uncertainties in the list of Exarchs, and the dating is confused. I have included alternative dates, and Exarchs, from different sources.

It takes three invasions by forces of the Caliphs to subdue North Africa. The Exarch was not always well supported by Constantinople, and also was not always loyal. The Exarch Gennadius II, deposed in a tax revolt, fled, not to Constantinople, or to Syracuse, where the Emperor Constans II was in residence at the time (and was assassinated there in 668), but to Damascus, to enter the service of the Omayyad Caliph Muʿāwiya. It is not clear why he did this, or whether he became a Muslim, but he died on the way back to North Africa. So it hardly mattered.

Before that, the first Arab invasion was conducted by ʿAbdallah ibn Saʿad (d.656) in 647, on behalf of the Caliph ʿUθmān. The Exarch Gregory, who had been in rebellion against the Emperor, met him battle at Sufetula and was defeated and killed. ʾIbn Saʿad raided through Roman Africa but was not prepared to besiege any cities. He withdrew to Egypt after being bought off.

The Second invasion was led by ʿUqba ibn Nāfiʿ, beginning in 663, or a bit later (665), on behalf of the Caliph Muʿāwiya. By 670, he had founded a permanent Arab base at , ʾal-Qayrawān (أَلْقَيْرَوَان), in Tunisia -- one of the four "Fetters of ʾIslām." This appears to have been held through the period of conquest, except for an evacuation 683-688.

The setbacks began to come from the Berbers, who, not always happy with the Romans, nevertheless began to resist the Arabs -- perhaps remembering that helping the Romans against Carthage only earned them Roman subjugation, far worse than anything they had needed to tolerate from Carthage. An early triumph was in 683 at Vescera, where ʿUqba, after marching to the Atlantic and apparently subduing the land, was himself killed and his army wiped out, by Kusaila ibn Malzam, كُسَيلَة إِبْن مَلْزَم. The Arabs were unable to even recover his body. In the course of the Arab conquests, this is one of the worst defeats on record. Hence the evacuation of ʾal-Qayrawān.

The conquest was finally effected in a third invasion led by Ḥassān ibn al-Nuʿmān al-Ghassānī (i.e. a Ghassanid), who was back in Africa by 688, and, after 703, by Mūsā ibn Nuṣayr (d.c.716). While Roman Carthage fell in 695, a relief fleet from Constantinople, commanded by John the Patrician, retook the city in 697. This didn't last long, since in 698 the Arabs took Carthage again.

Then a Berber Queen, ʾal-Kāhina, , "the Diviner" (أَلْكَاهِنَة), (or Dahiyah, and variants), temporarily dominates the land. She defeats Ḥassān in the "Battle of the Camels," or the Battle of Meskiana, in 698, so thoroughly that he retreats all the way to Cyrenaica, with many Arabs taken prisoner. This may have allowed for the recovery of Carthage again, since ʾal-Kāhina is said to have then ruled the whole land.

These events are a little confusing. Judith Herrin and Anthony Kaldellis say that the Arabs recaptured Carthage from John and demolished it in 698. They say nothing about ʾal-Kāhina, her victory, or the retreat of the Arabs to Cyrenaica [Herrin, op.cit., p.291; Kaldellis, The New Roman Empire, Oxford, 2024, pp.427-428]. The question is perhaps whether the Arabs could have recaptured Carthage under those circumstances. Herrin cites the Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, who also ignores ʾal-Kāhina and backs up Herrin's account [The Chronicle of Theophanes, Anni mundi 6095-6305 (A.D. 602-813), edited and translated by Harry Turtledove, U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982, pp.67-68].

Indeed, as with the Ghazzanids, our problem seems to be that ʾal-Kāhina is not mentioned in any Greek sources, while the historians may not trust the Arabic sources, whose surviving accounts are from a couple centuries later. According to Theophanes, after John is ejected from Carthage and then, as he is returning with reinforcements, his forces mutiny and chose their own Emperor, who they are able to install in Constantinople, as Tiberius III, in 698. Carthage was forgotten.

What we are to make of all this then depends on what ʾal-Kāhina was able to accomplish, regardless of the experience of John the Patrician. For all we know, she defeated the Arabs and recaptured Carthage again after John had been expelled from the city. Whatever was going on, we know what happened next.

The Arabs keep coming, and ʾal-Kāhina is finally defeated at Tabarka, perhaps in 702/703. The Berbers convert to ʾIslām. ʾAl-Kāhina's fate is uncertain, either death in battle or suicide -- near a well still called the Biʾr al-Kāhina, (بِئْر ٱلْكَاهِنَة). Since she then enters into legend, both favorable and hostile, most of the details given about her life and death, including that she was Jewish, are questionable. Her status as a national hero in Algeria is ironic, since she was a foe of ʾIslām.

So, Carthage was either destroyed in 698, or at some time soon after the defeat of ʾal-Kāhina, perhaps in 705. If that part of the story is all due to ʾal-Kāhina, then its absence from the Greek sources is explained. After her death, it doesn't take long for the Arabs to overrun the rest of North Africa.

Count Julian in Ceuta is the last Roman commander we know of. And we don't know much. Later Arab historians say that he surrendered to Mūsā ibn Nuṣayr because of a personal dispute with King Roderic of Visigothic Spain, to whom he may have owed more loyalty than to Constantinople, and that he then helped ferry Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād and his forces across the Strait of Gibraltar. After Roderic was killed in battle and Spain conquered, Julian was pensioned off but then, naturally, was shunned by Christians.

The office of the Roman Consuls, the chief executive officers of the Roman Republic, and dating by them, continued under the Empire until Justinian, who now replaces them with dating by Regal years. They can be examined on a popup page. As the end of an institution that began at the very beginning of the Republic, it is hard to exaggerate the symbolic importance of this event. The Roman state is now a monarchy in every detail -- although the Monarchs are overthrown with some frequency.

The Grammar of Philoponus's Statement

Jafnah I ibn Amr220-265
ʿAmr I ibn Jafnah265-270
Tha'labah ibn Amr270-287
al-Harith I ibn Th'alabah287-307
Jabalah I ibn al-Harith I307-317
al-Harith II ibn Jabalah "ibn Maria"317-327
al-Mundhir I Senior ibn al-Harith II327-330al-Aiham ibn al-Harith II327-330
al-Mundhir II Junior ibn al-Harith II327-340al-Nu'man I ibn al-Harith II327-342
Jabalah II ibn al-Harith II327-361'Amr II ibn al-Harith II330-356
Jafnah II ibn al-Mundhir I361-391
al-Nu'man II ibn al-Mundhir I361-362
al-Nu'man III ibn 'Amr ibn al-Mundhir I391-418
Jabalah III ibn al-Nu'man418-434
al-Nu'man IV ibn al-Aiham434-455al-Harith III ibn al-Aiham434-456
al-Nu'man V ibn al-Harith434-453
al-Mundhir II ibn al-Nu'man453-472
'Amr III ibn al-Nu'man453-486Hijr ibn al-Nu'man453-465
al-Harith IV ibn Hijr486-512
Jabalah IV ibn al-Harith512-529
al-Harith V ibn Jabalah529-569
Roman subsidy, 529; nominates Jacob Baradaeus as Bishop of Edessa, 542; son captured and sacrificed by Lakhmids to the goddess al-ʿUzza, , 544; defeats Lakhmids, captures and executes al-Mundhir III , 554; end of Roman subsidies, 563
al-Mundhir III ibn al-Harith569-581Abu Kirab al-Nu'man ibn al-Harith570-582
al-Nu'man VI ibn al-Mundhir582-583
al-Harith VI ibn al-Harith583al-Nu'man VII ibn al-Harith Abu Kirab583-?
direct Roman rule, 584-before 614; Persian invasion and occupation, 614-628
al-Aiham ibn Jabalah?-614
al-Mundhir IV ibn Jabalah614-?
Sharahil ibn Jabalah?-618
Amr IV ibn Jabalah618-628
Jabalah V ibn al-Harith628-632
Jabalah VI ibn al-Aiham632-636, d.645
Battle of Yarmūk, defects to ʾIslām, 636; returns to Romania, with 30,000 followers, founds family in Constantinople, 638
The Ghassanids, the , Banū Ghassān (بَنُو غَسَّان), were an Arab tribe occupying the hinterland behind Syria and Jordan, apparently as far back as the time of the Severans. This was the area that had previously seen rule by the
Nabataeans and then by Palmyra. Evidently it was difficult for the Romans to maintain direct rule over an area whose inhabitants might largely be pastoral and nomadic. Indirect rule ended up accomplished by alliances with local Arab tribes, culminating in the Ghassanids. The Ghassanids, while not having a formal capital, did have a relatively permanent encampment, with some permanent buildings, at Al-Jabiyah on the Golan Heights. This therefore seems to have been less permanent than the corresponding Lakhmid capital at al-Ḥīrah.

In the time of Justinian the Ghassanids became organized enough to be called a "kingdom" by historians, and they become an important part of Roman frontier defense in 529 when Justinian replaces the earlier Roman clients, the Salihids, with the Ghassanid al-Harith V, now the official Roman phylarch, φύλαρχος, or ruler of the tribe (phylē, φυλή).

Such client kingdoms might be said to represent the first entry of the Arabs into Mediterranean history. If they constitute a pre-Islamic move north of Arab people, then both the Romans and the Persians converted the threat of nomadic encroachment into elements of the pre-existing balance of power between Romania and Persia. For the Persians, indeed, had their own client Arab tribe, the Lakhmids, who occupied the hinterland west of the Euphrates. The rivalry between Ghassanids and Lakhmids was not just as proxies for the Powers, but, as can be imagined, the two tribes had become rivals anyway, and there was also a religious dimension. The Ghassanids were Christians, and the Lakhmids had (largely) remained pagan.

The religious difference may be illustrated with one particularly ugly exchange. In 544 the Lakhmid king al-Mundhir III captured a son of al-Harith V and sacrificed him to the Arabian goddess al-ʿUzza, (أَلْعُزَّى). Ten years later, al-Harith defeats and captures al-Mundhir and then executes him:  The lex talionis at work in the traditional Arab fashion.

The move of the Ghassanids north is recounted in remarkable legendary accounts. The tribe of Azd in Yemen, with a sub-tribe of Ghassān, was troubled by prophecies of Tarifah, a , kāhinah (كَاهِنَة), or "seeress." This is an intriguing word, from the verb , kahana (كَهَنَ), "to predict the future, tell a fortune." Extraordinarily, it is a cognate to the Hebrew word , kōhēn, "Cohen" (כֹּהֵן), the word for "priest," which becomes a Jewish surname. We also see this as the name of the woman who led the Berber resistance to the Islamic Conquest of North Africa.

Tarifah had been having dreams and visions of disaster and destruction in Yemen, including the collapse of the great Ma'rib Dam -- , Sadd Maʾrib (سَدُّ مَأْرِب). Because of this, the tribe headed north. Arriving in Syria, few found Roman tax collectors a welcoming factor and returned (some distance) to the south again. However, around 490, a sub-tribe, the Jafnah signed on as Roman clients and settled into the future role of the Ghassanids [Arabs, A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires, by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, Yale, 2019, pp.74-79].

While the religion of the Ghassanids in general would be expected to be a unifying factor with respect to Rome, there developed a difficulty. The Ghassanids became Monophysites. Indeed, when al-Harith V nominated Jacob Baradaeus Bishop of Edessa, it led to the takeover of the Syrian Orthodox Church, henceforth the "Jacobite" Church, by Monophysites. This was not something that Justinian would let stand in the way of sensible policy, but he nevertheless made one crucial mistake. When al-Harith defeated the Lakhmids in 554, Justinian, chronically short of money, discontinued his subsidy to the Ghassanid ruler.

This may also have happened because Justinian had just obtained the means of growing Silk -- silkworm eggs smuggled out of the Central Asia. This rendered the Arabian border and Arabia less important for Rome as a means of circumventing Persian control of the silk trade. The discontent of the Ghassanids with this dismissal of their importance would be magnified when later Emperors began a harassment like that inflicted on the Monophysite Coptic and the Syrian Orthodox Churches. Since the Ghassanids were rather like the keystone in the defensive arch based on Egypt and Syria, the disaffection of these populations seriously weakened the Roman frontier. This was already evident during the Persian invasion of 614-628, and nothing had been done to heal it by the time of the Arab invasion of 636.

What happened to the Ghassanids is then a good question. Many would have converted to ʾIslām and disappeared from history. Others, however, and it is impossible to say how many, remained Christians and decamped to Lebanon or Anatolia, adhering to the Maronite or Syrian Orthodox Church. Thus, Ghassanids may well have been part of the Mardaïte "freebooters" who troubled the early Omayyad Caliphate and figure in the great statement of Theophanes Confessor, quoted by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. For all we know, descendants may still be living on Mount Lebanon.

For the last king of the Ghassanids, Jabalah VI, however, there is more specific information. He had been given command of the Roman vanguard at the Battle of Yarmūk, within sight of his own capital of Al-Jabiyah, but in the battle he realized that the Arab army contained tribesmen he would regard as kinsmen, saying "You are our brethren and the sons of our fathers." So he switched sides and accepted ʾIslām. However, while on Pilgrimage to Mecca, he slapped a man who had stepped on his robe, hitting him in the eye, and the Caliph Umar ruled that he should be hit in the eye in turn.

Granted postponment of the punishment, Jabalah slipped away and returned to the Roman and Christian fold, with the statement, "I will not remain in a land where others rule me." It is said that as many as 30,000 of his people went with him. One might think that his status would not have been that improved in Constantinople, where he would still be ruled by the Emperor, but apparently it was -- certainly he could get away with slapping clumsy commoners. We are told that his family eventually led to the Emperor Nicephorus I, whose fortunes in battle, unfortunately, were no better than those of the Romans at Yarmūk [Mackintosh-Smith, pp.188,226]. Meanwhile, the camp/capital of the Ghassanids at Al-Jabiyah soon became a camp for the Army of the Omayyad Caliphs; and there were Ghassanids, like Ḥassān ʾibn ʾal-Nuʿmān ʾal-Ghassānī, who became successful commanders for the Omayyads.

The list here is entirely from Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies. An extensive discussion of the Ghassanids can be found, not just in Mackintosh-Smith, but in Justinian's Flea by William Rosen [Viking, 2007, pp. 242, 303, 306, & 318]. Despite the treatment of the Ghassanids in many Byzantine histories, which often give rulers of related states, I have not seen a list in any history.

Why there are no lists of Ghassanids in Byzantine histories may be explained by what Anthony Kaldellis says, that we don't get such information, or even descriptions of the Ghassanids as "Ghassanids," in Roman sources:

But these names [i.e. Ghassanids and Lakhmids] do not appear in this way in sources of the period, even in the inscriptions set up by the Roman Saracen leaders themselves. They are taken from later Muslim accounts of the Arab past and applied retroactively to the Roman period. [The New Roman Empire, op. cit., p.265]

Kaldellis seems sceptical that the Saracens led by al-Harith V was even a single tribe. As it happens, this would feed my own suspicion that the word "Saracen," Σαρακηνός, is itself from a "calque," a translation in Arabic, as شَرِيك, šarīk, "partner, associate, companion, confederate, ally," of the Latin word foederatus, "confederate, allied." That would apply to the Ghassanids whether they were one tribe or not, especially when we realize that "saracen" is here applied to pre-Islamic Arabs and thus does not itself mean "Muslim," as it would later.

Since the names of the Ghassanids include the familiar Arabic patronynmic element, ibn, the genealogy of the dynasty could actually be constructed without too much difficulty. It will also be noted that brothers often rule simultaneously, as with the several sons of al-Harith II who begin ruling in 327. Al-Harith II himself, with the epithet "ibn Maria" and living in the time of Constantine, is likely to be the tribal chief who converted to Christianity.

Rome and Romania Index

"BYZANTIUM," 610 AD-1059 AD,
Era of Diocletian 327-776, 449 years

ἄξιον, ὦ [Νέα] Ῥώμη μεγαλοκρατές, ἀντία σεῖο
κάλλος ἀπ᾽ Εὐρώπης δέρκεαι εἰς Ἀσίην.

O, great-ruling [New] Rome, thou lookest from Europe
on a prospect in Asia the beauty of which is worthy of thee.

Marianus Scholasticus, "On the Palace called Sophianae," [The Greek Anthology, Volume III, Book 9, "The Declamatory Epigrams," Number 657, The Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1917, p.364-365]

Λέγει ὁ Ἰάκωβος· Ἡ Ῥωμανία πῶς σοι φαίνεται;
Στήκει ὡς τὸ ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ἢ ἠλαττώθη;

Ἀποκρίνεται ὁ Ἰοῦστος· Καὶ ἐάν ἠλαττώθη μικρόν, ἐλπίζομεν ὅτι πάλιν ἀνίσταται· ὅτι δεῖ πρῶτον ἐλθεῖν τὸν Χριστόν, ἕως στήκει τὸ τέταρτον θηρίον τουτέστιν ἡ Ῥωμανία.

Jacob asked: What do you think of the state of Romania?
Does it stand as from the beginning, or has it been diminished?

Justus replied dubiously: Even if it has been diminished a little, we hope that it will rise again, because the Christ must come first, while the fourth beast, that is Romania, stands.

Doctrina Jacobi nuper baptizati, Διδασκαλία Ἰακώβου νεοβαπτίστου, 634 AD, A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602 [The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, p. 316, translation modified], Greek text, "Doctrina Jacobi Nuper Baptizati," Édition et traduction par Vincent Déroche, Travaux et Mémoires, 11 [Collège de France Centre de Recherche d'Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, De Boccard, Paris, 1991, p.167]; the "fourth beast" is a reference to the prophecies of Daniel. See.

γulibati-r-Rūm, fī ʾadnā-l-ʾarḍi,
wahum min baʿdi γalabihim, sayaγlibūna.

The Romans have been defeated, in a nearby land;
but they, after their defeat, will be victorious.

ʾal-Qurʾān, Sūrah 30, , Verses 2-3

The Constantinopolitan city, which formerly was called Byzantium and now New Rome, is located amidst very savage nations. Indeed it has to its north the Hungarians, the Pizaceni, the Khazars, the Russians, whom we call Normans by another name, and the Bulgarians, all very close by; to the east lies Baghdad; between the east and the south the inhabitants of Egypt and Babylonia; to the south there is Africa and that island called Crete, very close to and dangerous for Constantinople. Other nations that are in the same region, that is, the Armenians, Persians, Chaldeans, and Avasgi, serve Constantinople. The inhabitants of this city surpass all these people in wealth as they do also in wisdom.

Constantinopolitana urbs, quae prius Bizantium, Nova nunc dicitur Roma, inter ferocissimas gentes est constituta. Habet quippe ab aquilone Hungarios, Pizenacos, Charzaros, Rusios, quos alio nos nomine Nordmannos appelamus, atque Bulgarios nimium sibi vicinos; ab oriente Bagdas; inter orientem et meridiem Aegipti Babiloniaeque incolas; a meridie vero Africam habet et nominatam illam nimium vicinam sibique contrariam insulam Crete. Ceterae vero, quae sunt sub eodem climate nationes, Armeni scilicent, Perses, Chaldei, Avasgi, huic deserviunt. Incolae denique civitatis huius, sicut memoratas gentes divitiis, ita etiam sapientia superexcellunt.

Liutprand of Cremona (c.920-972), 949 AD, "Retribution," XI, The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona, translated by Paolo Squatriti [The Catholic Press of America, 2007, p.50]; Latin text, "Liudprandi Antapodosis," Die Werke Liudprands von Cremona, herausgeben von Joseph Becker [Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Hannover und Leipzig, 1915, pp.9-10; Reprint, University of Michigan Libraries, 2012].

Ex Francis, quo nomine tam Latinos quam Teutones
comprehendit, ludum habuit.

[Nicephorus II Phocas] made fun of the Franks, under which name he understood both the Latins and the Teutons.

Liutprand of Cremona, 968 AD ["Liudprandi Legatio," XXXIII, op.cit., 25-26].

The annals [χρονογραφία] recognize the fratricidal Romulus, from whose name they are called Romans, was born to a whore [πορνογέννητος], that is, he was generated in defilement [adulterium]; and he made a refuge for himself where he welcomed debtors from foreign climes, runaway slaves, murderers, and people who deserved death for their crimes, and he attracted such a throng of such people that he called them Romans; from this nobility there arose those whom you call cosmocrators [κοσμοκράτορες, "world rulers"], or emperors. We, that means the Lombards, Saxons, Franks, Lotharingians, Bavarians, Swabians, Burgundians, so disdain them that we utter no other insult than 'Roman!' to our enemies when aroused, and we understand that single term, the name of the Romans, to include every baseness [ignobilitas], every cowardice, every kind of avarice, every kind of dissipation, every mendacity, indeed every vice.

Liutprand of Cremona, "The Embassy of Liudprand," The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona [op.cit. pp.246-247, translation modified]; addressed, certainly in Greek, to the Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas, who threw Liutprand into prison -- the irony here is that Liutprand represents the German King Otto I, who claims to be the "Roman Emperor," but Nicephorus, who has just called him a "Lombard," has provoked him into denouncing all the "Romans," ever since Romulus, and boasting of the many tribes of Germans, including Otto's Saxons, with the added irony that Liutprand records this in Latin, the language of the "Romans."

ἀγάλλεται ἡ πόλις καὶ ὅλη ἡ Ῥωμανία, χαίρεται ὁ κόσμος.
The City and the whole of Romania is delighted, the world rejoices.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (d.959 AD), acclamation for Imperial banquet, De Ceremoniis, Book I, Chapter 65, "What it is necessary to observe at the dance, that is, at the banquet" [Constantine Porphyrogennetos, The Book of Ceremonies, translated by Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall, with the Greek edition of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae (Bonn, 1829), Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Byzantina Australiensia 18, Canberra, 2012, Volume I, p.295]

πάνδεινα κακὰ πέπονθεν ἡ Ῥωμανία ὑπὸ τῶν Ἀράβων μέχρι τοῦ νῦν.
All terrible evils has Romania suffered from the Arabs even until now.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959 AD) quoting the Chronicle of Theophanes (c.815) [De Administrando Imperio, Greek text edited by Gy. Moravcsik, Dumbarton Oaks Texts, 1967, 2008, p.94]

Ἀπορήσας οὖν ὁ ῥὴξ Πιπῖνος, εἶπεν πρὸς τοὺς Βενετίκους, ὅτι·
«Ὑπὸ τὴν ἐμὴν χεῖρα καὶ πρόνοιαν γίνεσθε,
ἐπειδὴ ἀπὸ τὴς ἐμῆς χώρας καὶ ἐξουσίας ἐστέ».
Οἱ δὲ Βενέτικοι ἀντέλεγον αὐτῷ, ὅτι·
«Ἡμεῖς δοῦλοι θέλομεν εἶναι τοῦ βασιλέως Ῥωμαίων καὶ οὐχὶ σοῦ».

So then King Pipin, at a loss, said to the Venetians:
«You are beneath my hand and my providence,
since you are of my country and domain.»
But the Venetians answered him:
«We want to be servants of the Emperor of Romans, and not of you.»

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, "Story of the settlement of what is now called Venice" [ibid., pp.120-121], regarding the attempt of Pepin the Short, King of the Franks (751-768), to include Venice in his Kingdom; for the use of ῥὴξ for "king," see Feudal Hierarchy.

Ὑμεῖς οὐχὶ Ῥωμαῖοι, ἀλλὰ Λαγούβαρδοι ἐστέ.
Vos non Romani, sed Longobardi estis!
You are not Romans, but Lombards!

Nicephorus II Phocas to Liutprand of Cremona (c.920-972), who represents the "Roman" Emperor Otto I, 968 AD; "Embassy," XII, The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona, translated by Paolo Squatriti [The Catholic Press of America, 2007, p.246]; Latin text, "Liudprandi Legatio," Die Werke Liudprands von Cremona, herausgeben von Joseph Becker [Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Hannover und Leipzig, 1915, p.182; Reprint, University of Michigan Libraries, 2012]; Liutprand, of course, was himself the Lombard, not the Saxon Otto; the Greek version here is a speculative back-translation from the Latin of Liutprand.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), "Sailing to Byzantium," alluding to the mechanical birds reported by Liutprand at the Macedonian court; mosaic of ship at Classe, port of Ravenna (mast of foreground ship edited out), from Basilica di Sant'Apollinaire Nuovo, Ravenna -- a ship that actually could well have sailed to "Byzantium," i.e. Constantinople.

To most people thinking of the "Roman Empire," we are well into terra incognita here. Yet in 610 the character and problems of the Roman Empire would not have been unfamiliar to Theodosius the Great. A Persian invasion was nothing new. How far it got, all the way to Egypt and the Bosporus, was. Meanwhile, the collapse of the Danube frontier was not now the doing of Germans but of Slavs and Steppe people -- the latter beginning with the Altaic Avars, whose kin would dominate Central Asia in the Middle Ages. The Persians were miraculously defeated; but before the Danube could be regained or the Lombards overcome in Italy, a Bolt from the Blue changed everything.

The Arabs, bringing a new religion, ʾIslām, created an entirely new world, which both broke the momentum of Roman recovery and divided the Mediterranean world in a way whose outlines persist until today. Nevertheless, the Empire, restricted to Greece and Anatolia, rode out the flood. It must have been a hard nut, since the Arab Empire otherwise flowed easily all the way to China and the Atlantic. It was hard enough, indeed, that by the end of the "Third Empire" it had been in better health than any Islamic state. The promise of new ascendency, however, was brief, both for internal and external reasons.

I had a professor at UCLA, a Turkicist or even a Turkophile, who had an explanation why the Arabs were unable to permanently conquer and occupy Anatolia. He said, "It's cold up there." So the Arabs needed a warmer climate, while the Turks, later, presumably, were tougher stuff. A problem with this explanation, however, is that the Arabs had no problem conquering and occupying Iran, much of which is higher and colder (in the winter) than Anatolia. So this was just a bit of a joke, by the professor, at the Arabs' expense.

Meanwhile, despite what was saved from the Arab conquests, there has been a cost paid, as we might expect, in prosperity and material culture. This is conspicuous in the coinage, where the previous style of low relief profile portraits is still typical in Justinian's day. However, we also start to get face on portraits, whose quality is less good. By the time of Heraclius, face on portraits are dominant, and soon exclusive, while their character ceases to be low relief and becomes cartoonish. This will improve again later, but the coinage will never have the photo-real quality that we expect in modern coinage and that was often present in the best work of the First Empire. That the gold coinage of the solidus still exists at all, however, is testimony to the fact that the prosperity and material culture of Romania never fell as far as it did in Francia, and that a paid, professional military survives, despite a period of retrenchment.

As Western Civilization found its fortress redoubt in Constantinople, the reality of the Dark Ages swept over much of the West. A decline in material culture, trade, cash exchange, and literacy passed over Europe in a kind of "rolling blackout." That began in Britain in the 5th century, after a garrison could not be restored in 410, then it reaches Gaul in the 6th century, Italy in the 7th, and then the Aegean in the 8th. We can trace the events that often precipitated these declines. Germanic invaders were destructive, illiterate, and uninterested in commerce or manufacture -- under them Britain dropped out of history altogether. Their modus vivendi, like socialists, was looting; and even in periods of revival, as under the Carolingians, an "aristocratic" disdain for money and labor persisted, in some ways even down to the present, celebrated, not just by socialists and aristocrats, but by philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, popular at parasitic institutions, like universities.

Justinian's reconquest of Italy, followed by the invasion of the Lombards, which fragmented the peninsula, inflicted damage and diseconomies that would not be properly remedied for centuries. Finally, the Arab invasions and conquests inflicted widespread damage, depopulation, and disruption of trade, which, again might not be properly restored for centuries. Trade did not disappear, but we see the quality and quantity of trade goods and manufacture catastrophically diminish, and a cash economy disappear in many places. Roman trade goods in Cornwall, and reports of Roman subsidies, are in stark contrast to the total absence of local contemporary accounts of either -- only the garbled shadow of events that appears in the King Arthur legends.

The Balkans were devastated by the raids and invasions of the Avars and Slavs; but this kind of thing also affected cities in Anatolia, which were subject to repeated Arab raids, often making it difficult to even maintain agriculture. While the Arab domain was not hostile, like the German, to commerce and industry, we nevertheless see declines from Roman levels of prosperity. Copper mining in the Wādī Faynān (وَادِي فَيْنَان), now in Jordan, which had continued for centuries, abruptly stopped with the Arab conquest. We also find that cashes of legal documents in Egypt, which bespeak rural prosperity (i.e. people who can afford lawyers), no longer occur after the Arab conquest.

Europa est omnis divisa in partes tres,
quarum unam Romaniam, aliam Franciam, tertiam Russiam.
Europa1. Romania2. Constantinople
2. Francia1. Rome
3. Russia3. Moscow
It is in this period that Christendom begins to separate into distinct cultural spheres. When the Popes become free of Imperial supervision, and then Charlemagne is crowned "Roman Emperor" entirely on the novel authority of the Papacy, the Latin Church and Francia form themselves in opposition to Romania, its Emperors, and the Church legitimized by the Church Councils and four of the five Patriarchates. This was in the day of the extraordinary Empress Irene. Rather later, under the Macedonians, we have an extended period of missionaries to the Slavs, the conversion of Bulgaria, and then the conversion of Russia. The Slavic Churches, although autocephalous, were nevertheless in doctrinal communion with Constantinople -- as they still are.

This contrasts starkly with Francia, where tension and disputes ultimately came to a great Schism between Rome and Constantinople -- almost entirely over claims of Papal authority, besides which doctrinal issues were mere pretexts. Papal pretensions bloated and inflated until suddenly punctured by the ruthless and cynical Philip IV of France. After the humiliations of the Avignon Papacy and the Great Schism, the Popes had barely reestablished their status when the Reformation permanently divided the Western Church. Papal pretentions remained, but they only applied to a fragment of Francia; and although the Popes launched ideological and missionary attacks on the Eastern Churches, those Churches, often for long under the Ottoman thumb, or fully self-confident under the Tsars, who styled themselves the successors of Constantinople, mostly remained deeply hostile to the Latin West.

Meanwhile, the strength of Francia, overshadowing the Papacy, Romania, and Russia, lay in States that became aggressive, innovative, and powerful, beginning with Spain, then the Netherlands, France, Britain, and Germany. Spain, without a modern economy, fell behind; but full Modernity, with markets, banking, science, and technology began to flourish with the Dutch, French, British, and Germans. Mediaeval Romania, of course, had long been eclipsed, finally swamped by the Ottoman tide in 1453. The Third Empire is the last time of Roman flourishing before the shadow of Turkish conquest falls at Manzikert in 1071, and the Turkish threat provokes a Western response that deals a heavier blow to Romania than to any part of ʾIslām.

Rome and Romania Index

A. THE ADVENT OF ʾISLĀM, 610-802, 192 years


Flavius Heraclius
conquest of Mesopotamia, 607-610, Syria, 611-613, Palestine & Jerusalem, 614, Egypt, 616, & invasion of Anatolia, 626, by Shāh Khusro II; end of Egyptian grain shipments to Constantinople, 618; return of Plague, 619?; defeat of Persians, 622-628; the iussio, Imperial confirmation of Papal election, delegated to Exarch of Ravenna, 620; Salona destroyed by Avars, residents move to Spalatum, 620; Cartagena falls to Visigoths, 624; Avar Siege of Constantinople, Aqueduct of Valens broken, Persians on Bosporus, 626; Battle of Nineveh, Persians defeated, 627; Βασιλεύς officially adopted as title of the Emperor, 629; True Cross returned to Jerusalem, 630; forced baptism of Jews, 632; occupation of Armenia, 633; Arab invasion, 634; Army of the East destroyed, Battle of Yarmūk, Syria evacuated, 636; fall of Gaza, Antioch, 637; Jerusalem surrendered to the Caliph ʿUmar, 638; proclamation of Monotheletism 638; Egypt invaded, 639; fall of Caesarea in Palestine, 640
Constantine III3 months, 641

1 month, 641
deposed & mutilated

Constans II Pogonatus
641-668, last Emperor to visit Rome as a possession
Egypt lost, 641; Embassy to T'ang China, 643; Genoa (Liguria) lost to Lombards, 644; Alexandria reoccupied, army defeated, withdraws, 645; Roman army destroyed in North Africa, but Arabs withdraw, 647; Arab attack against Cyprus, 649; Armenia rejects Orthodoxy of Constantinople, 649; Arab attack, Cyprus abandoned, 650; Arab invasion of Sicily defeated, 652, 667; Armenians go over to Arabs, Romans defeated, 653; Navy, commanded by Constans, defeated by Arab fleet at Phoinikous, the "Battle of the Masts," Muʿāwiya, before becoming Caliph, attacks Constanintople, 654; but Arab forces thrown back from Constantinople & defeated in Cappadocia, 655; attack on Slavs in Balkans, prisoners settled in Anatolia or pressed into Army, 658; campaign against the Lombards, visit to Rome & Naples, strips bronze roof from the Pantheon, 663; the Caliph Muʿāwiya attacks Constanintople, 667/668-669; Constans assassinated at Syracuse, brief revolt put down, 668
Constantine IV668-685
Arab fleet defeated, 672; Siege of Constantinople by Muʿāwiya, 674-677; Arab fleet defeated off Lebanon, 677/78; Army landed in Lebanon, joins Mardaïtes, 677; Bulgars occupy lower Danube, 680; Council VI, Constantinople III, Monotheletism condemned, 680-681; Revolt, Constantine's brothers mutilated, exiled, 681; Imperial ratification of Papal elections abolished, 684/685

Justinian II Rhinotmetus
685-695, 705-711
Negotiates withdrawl of Mardaïtes and the Roman Army from Lebanon, peace with ʿAbd al-Malik, 685; Romans defeated by Arabs at Sebastopolis, 20,000 Slav conscripts desert, 692; Loss of Armenia, 693; Roman governor in Ceuta (Morocco), last possession in North Africa, eliminated by Arabs, 711; Pope Constantine, last Pope to visit Constantinople, called by iussio, 710-711

Carthage falls to Arabs, 697; Berber al-Kāhina defeats Arabs in North Africa, Carthage recovered, 698; return of Plague, 698
Tiberius III

al-Kāhina defeated, 702; Carthage destroyed, 705

Philippicus Bardanes (Vardan)
Anastasius II713-715, d.719
Deposed after siege of Consantinople, 715; revolted, executed by Leo III, 719
Theodosius III715-717
Pergamum destroyed by Arab fleet, city abandoned, 715
With Heraclius, seldom has fortune and ability so blessed a ruler only to turn so completely against him in the end. Heraclius and his father, also Heraclius, the
Exarch of Carthage, started a revolt against Phocas in Africa. Troops were sent to Egypt, which defeated the garrison loyal to Phocas. Such fighting, and not just in Egypt, went on for two years, 608-610. This, of course, weakened all the Roman armies even as they would need to resist the Persians -- just as the Persian war would weaken the armies soon needed to resist the Arabs.

In 610, Heraclius sailed directly to Constantinople. He easily deposed Phocas, who had been slaughtering the family of Maurice and his loyalists; but then Heraclius had to almost helplessly watch the Persians conquer Syria and Egypt and raid through Anatolia as far as the Borporus (in 615). With Avars and Slavs pouring into the Balkans, the Roman Empire seemed doomed to complete collapse.

But then in one of the most brilliant, but far more desperate, campaigns since Alexander, in 624-625 Heraclius audaciously invaded Persia itself. He even wintered with the army in the field -- something that counts as an operational achievement far beyond the traditional division of tactics and strategy.

In 626 the Persians arrived at the Bosporus and their Avar allies at the walls of Constantinople, trying to draw Heraclius out of the field and with a chance of destroying his power at the source. Confident that Constantinople was impregnable, which it was, Heraclius was not distracted.

In 627-628 he devastated Persia and late in 627 defeated a Persian army at Nineveh, which precipitated the overthrow of Shāh Khusro II by his own son (628), who sued for peace. Meanwhile, the Avars had given up at the siege of Constantinople after only seven days -- although called back with the help of the Persians. It didn't do much good. Avar cavalry counted for nothing against the Land Walls.

At the height of his physical powers, at Nineveh Heraclius actually fought the Persian general, Razates, in single combat, μονομαχία. He had similarly fought and overthrown a Persian champion the year before. Naturally, the word got around that he was divinely protected, a new King David -- commemorated on a set of silver plates such as the one here..

Silver "David Plate," with the Battle of David and Goliath, 629–630, largest of a group of nine plates found at Karavas, Cyprus, 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Click on plate for popup of six plates as displayed in the Museum.

Heraclius had received significant material aid from the Gök Turks, who were the parent of the Khazars, of long future Roman alliance. Heraclius betrothed his daughter Eudocia to the Khagan, who died (630) before the marriage could be effected. This seems to be the first of Roman relations with any Turks, and the first of at least three marriages that would be arranged with the Khazars.

The peace restored the status quo ante bellum. In 629 Heraclius began to use the title of the defeated monarch, the traditional Persian "Great King." Thus Basileus, Βασιλεύς, the Greek word for "King," became the mediaeval Greek word for "Emperor" (although, actually, Procopius was already using it that way in the days of Justinian) -- as Greek now (or hereabouts) replaces Latin as the Court language as well as the language of command in the Army. Similarly, Βασίλεια, Basíleia, "Queen," becomes "Empress." The adjective Βασίλειος, Basíleios, "Kingly," is also found as a proper name, especially of two Macedonian Emperors.

With Basileus for "Emperor," the Latin word rex is borrowed, as ῥήξ, to use for mere kings as such. Latin military terms are transcribed, for instance, δούξ for dux, "duke," and κόμης for comes, "count"; and they continued in use through the history of Romania -- they went their own semantic way, of course, in the feudalism of Francia. There was already a sense that Autokrátor, Αὐτοκράτωρ, translated imperator, "commander," and it was typically coupled with Basileus, although not exclusively.
Feudal Hierarchy
Monarchical Acclamations
The use of Autokrátor in this way, continued down to Imperial Russia, where the Emperor until 1917 was formally "Tsar and Autocrat."

The Latin title Augustus was adopted into Greek as Αὔγουστος, but was used more frequently in the feminine as Αὐγοῦστα for Empresses; but Augustus had already been introduced in translation as Σεβαστός, sebastós. Nevertheless, Σεβαστός seems to have dropped out of usage for the Emperor and later became a lesser title, or part of titles for other officials, such as σεβαστοκράτωρ, sebastokrátōr, "August ruler" -- a title created by Alexius Comnenus, who himself was made a Σεβαστός while a general, which introduced a rank between Caesar (Καῖσαρ, a lesser title since the Tetrarchy) and Emperor. And we see Σεβαστή used for the mistress, Maria Scleraena, of the Emperor Constantine IX, at a time when there were already two Αὐγοῦσται (Zoë and Theodora).

Downfall at Yarmuk

But then, barely six years after this exhausting victory, the Arabs, united by ʾIslām, appeared out of the desert and quickly conquered Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. Jerusalem would never be recovered, except temporarily by the Crusaders.

Old and ill, and after all his years campaigning in rugged mountains, Heraclius commanded none of the armies against the Arabs and had to watch his life's work largely melt away to an enemy whose advent no one could have predicted or even imagined, while people said it was the Judgment of God because he had married his niece -- although a core for the Empire would be preserved.

The decisive battle for Syria, which of course then opened the door to Egypt, was the Battle of the Yarmūk River, (نَهْر اؐلْيَرْمُوك), a watercourse that now forms part of the border between Jordan and Syria, over six days,15-20 August 636. With Heraclius old and sick, the Roman command had been given to the Armenian prince Vahan, Վահան, against the gifted Arab general Khālid ibn Walīd, (خَالِد ٱبْن ٱلْوَلِيد, 585-642) -- someone who had already defeated the Persians several times and driven them from Mesopotamia.

Vahan, with superior forces, was not up to the challenge, a virtual General McClellan, stolid, unaggressive, unimaginative -- he had the advantage in combat for days and did not pursue it -- and placed himself before the gorge of a tributary of the Yarmūk, with only a single bridge left in case of retreat.

For days, Vahan ate away at the flanks of the Arab army, driving them back into the Arab camp more than once -- the women had to come out to fight in support of the men. But his aggressive flanks were often unsupported by the infrantry of the center, which did not advance. This opened gaps in the Roman line, which enabled the Arabs to recover their position with counter-attacks. This happened enough to make it look like Vahan was unconcerned about supporting his own attacks. Nevertheless, all this seriously degraded the Arab army, giving the Romans a continuing advantage.

Actually feeling a bit desperate, Khālid decided he needed a bold stroke. So he gathered much of his cavalry and sent it in a wide maneuver around the left of the Romans, capturing the key bridge in the Roman rear. This was worthy of Stonewall Jackson, and it led to the decisive last day of the battle. Vahan had arranged for the trap of his own army.

The worst thing, of course, was that Vahan seems to have been unaware of Khālid's maneuver, or unprepared to counter it. So Vahan was not even using his own cavalry to his advantage, either for reconaissance or for the wider security of his army. The battle was then lost, like Adrianople, with the adverse cavalry battle, which overlapped the Roman left flank and pressed the army up against the river gorge. Vahan himself was killed.

The Arabs, of course, unlike the Visigoths, were famous horsemen, but the failure of Roman cavalry was command, not ability. Procopius had already written how much the Romans had learned about cavalry tactics from the Huns, but here the lighter armed Arab horsemen used their mobility advantage over the heavier armed Romans, who perhaps had grown too accustomed to dealing with the corresponding Persian cavalry. The Persians had the same problems with the Arabs, to far more catastrophic results for them.

But, although the Arab horsemen may have had an advantage in effecting a quick and broad maneuver, the Romans did not need to keep up with them, only to meet them, which only required minimal movement. Riding directly into heavier Roman cavalry defending the bridge and the rear of the Roman army, the Arabs would have had no advantage. So the real problem was that Vahan did not have the imagination of Khālid, or the care of a competent general.

This is the second of the great "Downfall" battles recounted here. The loss to the Arabs soon leads to the permanent loss of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and ultimately North Africa, not just to the Roman Empire, but to Christendom. The previous enemies of Rome who had effected similar losses, the Goths and other Germans, themselves became Christians and heirs of Roman civilization. ʾIslām created its own civilization.

There are reports of local Jews helping the Persians during the taking of Jerusalem and the Persian occupation of other locations. Since Persia had recently expelled their own Jews, this casts some doubt on the idea that Jews would help them. However, in the course of the Persian withdrawal, there certainly were riots and clashes involving Christians and Jews in several places. These may have been unmotivated attacks on the Jews, but it does mean that something else may have been going on. It is not inconveivable that local Jews helped the Persians, regardless of what policy had been to the Jews in Persia.

Then we have an order of 632 from Heraclius calling for the forced baptism of Jews in North Africa. But North Africa wasn't even occupied by the Persians, and we don't know if this order was even extended to the rest of the Empire. That it was may be indicated by Heraclius' efforts to get Dagobert I of Francia to apply it in his own lands, which evidently he did. Subsequently, we hear of Jews fleeing to the Muslims as they advanced. Even though Muḥammad, like the Persians, had expelled the Jews from his own jurisdiction in Medina, we know that Jews certainly could expect a more benign attitude from the Muslims than they had been receiving from the Christians. At that point, they would have owed no more loyalty to Heraclius and Romania than would the Monophysites. Under ʾIslām, their situation would be no worse, and perhaps better, than that of local Christians. We are left to wonder, then, what actually was going on with the Jewish population.

The Letter of Muḥammad to Heraclius

The Arab historian ʾAṭ-Ṭabarī reports that the Prophet Muḥammad had written a letter to the Emperor Heraclius, inviting him to convert to ʾIslām, much as Aśoka had written to Hellenistic monarchs for a similar purpose. Heraclius is addressed as , Harqal ʿAẓīm ar-Rūm (هَرْقَل عَظِيم اؐلرُّوم). The word , of course, is the Arabic rendering of "Heraclius." And we know about as "Romans," whose form is discussed in detail here, and from which we can construct , the Balād-ar-Rūm (بَلَادُ اؐلرُّوم), the "Country of the Romans," i.e. Romania.

So the curious word is , ʿAẓīm. This can mean "great, big, large; strong, powerful, mighty; significant, important; grand, grandiose, imposing, stately, magnificent," but also "lofty, exalted, august, sublime, splendid, gorgeous, glorious, superb," etc. [Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Cornell University Press, 1966, p.623]. In the midst of all that, if we pick out "august," we might conclude that it translates Augustus, which we see in Greek as (transcribed) Αὔγουστος or (translated) Σεβαστός (Sebastós).

ʾAṭ-Ṭabarī uses another word for "emperor" elsewhere, , Ṣāḥib, which is examined at his link above. Finally, we see another term used in the Thousand and One Nights. Heraclius is called , Harqal al-Qaiṣar (هَرْقَل اؐلْقَيْصَر), with the word "Caesar," , Qaiṣar, that becomes "emperor" in many languages ["Tales of Umar ibn al-Khattāb," The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, rendered into English from the Literal and Complete French Translation of Dr. J.C. Mardrus, by Powys Mathers, Volume IV, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964, 1972, 1986, p.471; transcribed as "Harkal al-Kaisar," with "k" for "q" and no diacritic].

Qí wáng wúcháng rén jiǎn xiánzhě érlì zhī.

Guózhōng zāiyì jí fēngyǔ bùshí zhéfèi ér gēng lì.

Shòu fàng yǒu gān chù bù yuàn.

(1) Their kings are not permanent rulers, but they select men of merit [, "virtuous, worthy, good"]. If an extraordinary calamity visits the country, or if wind and rain come at the wrong time, he is deposed and another man is put in his stead. The one relieved of his duties submits to his degradation without a murmur.

(2) Their kings are not men who last. They choose the most capable and they put him on the throne; but if a misfortune or something out of the ordinary happens in the Empire, or if the wind or the rain arrive at the wrong season, then they at once depose the emperor and put another in his place.

History of the Later Han Dynasty, the 後漢書, Hòu Hànshū. Chinese text and translation (1), Friedrich Hirth, China and the Roman Orient [Leipsic & Munich: Georg Hirth, Shanghai & HongKong: Kelly & Walsh, 1885; photostat by Legare Street Press, pp.41,100]; Pinyin assembled by the editor.

Translation (2), Gilbert Dagron, Emperor and Priest, the Imperial Office in Byzantium [Cambridge University Press, 2003, 2007, p.13]; based on the text of the Old History of the T'ang Dynasty, 舊唐書, Jiù Tángshū. The character in the Han history corresponds to in the T'ang history. They are the same character. The T'ang text is missing the last clause.

Dagron has a confused citation, where he says it is from the "ancient history of the Tang," but then gives that as the Xin T'ang shu, which would mean the New History of the T'ang, as well as mixing a Wade-Giles "T'ang" in with Pinyin "Xin" (cf. Hirth, pp.52,104, for the Old T'ang text and translation).

Contact with T'ang Dynasty China, 643 AD

According to the Old History of the T'ang Dynasty, 舊唐書 [Jiù Tángshū], an embassy arrived at the Court of the Emperor T'ai Tsung in the year 643. This was from (or 拂菻國, Fúlǐn Guó), which apparently is now the Chinese version of "Constantinople," perhaps derived from "City" in the accusative, Πολίν -- a Mandarin syllable, of course, cannot end in an "s." This would have been in the time of Constans II, whose name we may see as 波多力, Bōduōlì, based on his sobriquet Pogonatus.

The Chinese were aware that their name of the country had changed. We have a positive statement in the New History of the T'ang Dynasty, 新唐書 [Xīn Tángshū], that, 拂菻古大秦也, Fúlǐn gǔ Dà Qín yě, "Fu-lin is the ancient Ta Ch'in." Grumpy Byzantinists can use this to switch between "Rome" and "Byzantium" for their own purposes. The Chinese were also aware that by now the name of Parthia had changed. In this time, south-east of Fúlǐn is 波斯, Bōsī, "Persia," the realm of the Sassanids.

Unlike the earlier record of contact in the time of the Antonines, this came overland and initiated regular trading relations. Roman solidi became prized in China, even to the point of imitation coins being produced. This finally completed the process of contact that resulted only in failure in the days of the Antonines and the Han. Now the Silk Road was fully open to commerce and contact, bypassing any impediments from hostile or predatory Middle Eastern states.

Official contact between Constantinople and China would continue until the last days of the Palaeologi, when we know that in 1371 the first Ming Emperor wrote a letter to John V, announcing the advent of the new dynasty. The Ming, of course, would outlast Romania -- by 191 years.

After the embassy of 643, the Chinese recorded further contact in 667, 701, 711, 719, and 742 -- by then in the time of Leo III and Constantine V. Despite these contacts, the information that the Chinese had about Romania remains garbled, with the same fractured descriptions repeated in subsequent histories. Thus, the capital of Dà Qín is early said to be 安都, Āndū. This looks like nothing so much as "Antioch," which would have been the largest Roman city close to Parthia, whose status could thus have been confused. But the confusion was never corrected, even when the name Fúlǐn itself looks like a reference to Constantinople. In fact, for all the embassies to China from Rome, we never hear of a corresponding one to the West, which could have clarified matters like this. In 1371, the letter of the Hung-wu Emperor was handed to a Roman traveler, not sent with an emissary.

However, we are told by the Old History of the T'ang Dynasty, 舊唐書, that direct contact was contemplated:


Suī Yangdì cháng jiāng tōng Fúlǐn jìng bùnéng zhì.

The emperor Yang-ti of the Sui dynasty always wished to open intercourse with Fu-lin, but did not [was not able, 不能, to] succeed. [Hirth, op.cit. pp.55,105]

We hear nothing of the sort about any Roman Emperor, despite the Chinese records of many Roman embassies to China, but none from China to Romania. Indeed, it would be nice to know why Yang-ti's wish "was not able to succeed."

Some of the information that got to China was such as to illuminate our own understanding of Romania. The epigraph above is that, "Their kings are not permanent rulers, but they select men of merit." This is not, of course, quite right; but it does tell us that, to outsiders, the frequent lack of hereditary succession of the 拂菻王 in Constantinople was novel. And we do know that, at times, new Emperors were chosen with some deliberation, as when, in 491, the Empress Ariadne announced the choice of Anastasius as her new husband and Emperor.

On the other hand, I have heard of no Emperors being deposed because the weather was bad. When the statue of Constantine was blown down in 1106, Alexius Comnenus was not blamed for it. Similarly, few deposed Emperors seem to have taken their loss in good grace -- 不怨, "without complaint." Usually, they were killed or blinded, although a few (very few) retired without harm. Justinian II was deposed and mutilated, but then restored, to be deposed again and killed (with his half-Khazar son) in turn.

At the same time, we would like to know how the Chinese knew about features of the Roman monarchy. Anthony Kaldellis refers to the same Chinese passage but says it was due to, "a Chinese traveler, who noted that the Romans chose the most capable man as their king but then deposed him if he failed" [The New Roman Empire, op.cit., p.520]. However, I do not see a Chinese reference to such a "traveler," although, as speculation, it is reasonable enough. We are not told that the Roman embassies to the T'ang Court were reciprocated in any formal way, despite the "wish" of Yangi-ti -- although the Chinese, 常將, cháng jiāng, is more like "frequently tried."

We can follow Kaldellis' citation to Gilbert Dagron and then through Dagron's somewhat confused citation to Friedrich Hirth. And we might wonder why Dagron chose to refer to the T'ang text rather than to the Han, which was more complete. Hirth himself has his own confusions in evaluating the Chinese sources, which I will consider below.

The Chinese Embassies of 1081 and 1091

Constans II was the last Emperor to campaign in Italy and visit Rome as an Imperial possession (later the Palaeologi went to beg for help). While driving the Lombards up to their capital, Pavia, his attempts to eliminate the Lombard Dukes of Benevento, whose possessions were disruptively lodged between Roman territory in the South, were nevertheless futile -- the Allies would have similar trouble in the same area in World War II. He was also the last Emperor to exert real control over the Popes, arresting Martin I (649-653, d.655) and exiling him to the Crimea -- which earned him martyrdom and sainthood in the Latin Church. Once in Italy, Constans stayed, apparently wishing to move the capital of the Empire to Syracuse in Sicily. After he was assassinated there (668), nothing further came of this.

Greek Fire, Πῦρ Ῥωμαϊκόν

Constantine IV had to deal with the second Arab siege of Constantinople, sent by Muʿāwiya, who previously had led his own attack on the City in 654. This went on for years, 674-677, after preliminary actions as early as 672. This is often called the "first" Arab siege of Constantinople, because of uncertainty about whether the attacks of 667/668-669 really settled down to an actual siege.

The climax of the siege was the destruction of the Arab fleet by a new super-weapon, the famous and mysterious "Greek Fire." This was an incendiary weapon developed by a Christian refugee, Callinicus, Καλλίνικος, from Heliopolis, or Baalbek, in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon.

Callinicus arrived in Constantinople around 672. His invention now sounds like nothing so much as napalm, since it could burn under water. It could be sprayed onto enemy ships through a siphon, like a flame-thrower -- as we see in an illustration from the history of John Skylitzes (d.after 1101). This would be no less impressive, frightening, and effective now as it would be in the 7th Century.

In Greek sources, the "fire" would be called "sea fire," πῦρ θαλάσσιον, "Roman fire," πῦρ ῥωμαϊκόν, "war fire," πολεμικὸν πῦρ, "fluid fire," ὑγρὸν πῦρ, "sticky fire," πῦρ κολλητικόν, and other things. This would serve the Romans well for many centuries; and new enemies, like the Vikings, arriving in the Bosporus, must have just been astonished, as well as terrified. In this case, burning the Arab fleet meant that the Empire would survive.

As dramatic as this battle would be on film, we are reminded that Hollywood has not been interested in the story of Mediaeval Romania.

Justinian II Rhinotmetus

With the last member of the dynasty, Justinian II, we have a curious experiment in humanity and an extraordinary story as the sequel. When Justinian was deposed in 695, instead of being killed, his nose and ears were cut off -- as had those of Heraclonas in 641. Hence his epithet, Ῥινότμητος, Rhinotmetus, "Cut Nose."

It was expected that this would disqualify him from attempts at restoration. It didn't. Justinian fled to the Khazars, where he arranged a marriage with the Khagan's sister, giving her the Christian name "Theodora." The Emperor Tiberius III, however, pressured the Khazars to expel Justinian, which before long they did. Justinian now fled to the Bulgars, who decided to support him and in 705 showed up with him and their army before Constantinople. Unable to enter the City, there was then not much the Bulgars could do. Justinian, however, was able to sneak inside; and he apparently had sufficient support to depose Tiberius and regain the Throne, a most unlikely Odyssey. His Khazar wife then joined him and gave birth to a son, curiously named Tiberius. After another unpopular reign, Justinian was then deposed again and, with his son, killed.

We don't hear how Justinian may have disguised the mutilation of his face. We know that the great astronomer, Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), who had lost his nose in a duel, wore a prosthetic nose of gold. People did not seem to find that odd. Perhaps Justinian used a similar recourse.

We also saw the same thing, much later, with some white women who were captured by the Comanches in Texas, and whose noses were burned off to signify that they had been passed around as sex slaves among the men. After escaping, they had recourse to prosthetic noses. The Comanche chief Quanah Parker (d.1911) was actually the son of a captured white woman, Cynthia Ann Parker (1827-1871), who, however, was captured young and not raped or tortured.

The curious experiment in humanity with Justinian, of course, was that when first deposed he was not killed but just mutilated. When it developed that this was not enough to bar him from being restored, henceforth deposed Emperors, or other politically threatening persons, would be blinded. This was more effective (although the blind Isaac II was restored by the Fourth Crusade), though now it may not seem particularly more humane than execution. Otherwise, the end of the dynasty demonstrates one drawback of the new themes:  They represented such military force that the strategus, their commander, was continually tempted to revolt. This problem was soon addressed simply by dividing the themes into smaller ones.

Another noteworthy aspect of the initial overthrow of Justinian II were the slogans that were voiced by popular protests. A very curious cry, repeated (with suitable substitutions) over the centuries was, ἀνασκαφῇ τὰ ὀστέα Ἰουστινιανοῦ, Anastaphēi tà ostéa Ioustinianoū, "Let the bones of Justinian be dug up!" Since Justinian was not dead or buried, it is curious how people should be calling for his exhumation. The expression may have originated in earlier circumstances, now lost. As it happens, one Pope, Formosus (891-896), was actually exhumed and put on trial, in what was then aptly called the "Cadaver Synod." This does not seem to have happened with any Roman Emperors, but this "dig up his bones" expression caught on as a way to call for the overthrown of Emperors. Another call also became traditional, which was simply to shout ἀνάξιος, anaxíos, "Unworthy!" We can all understand that.

The Organization of the Themes and Exarchates, 668 AD

Under Constans the structure of the Roman Army was fundamentally changed to deal with the new circumstances of the Empire. As the traditional units, largely familiar from the 5th Century, fell back from the collapsing frontiers, they were settled on the land in Anatolia, to be paid directly from local revenues instead of from the Treasury, whose tax base from Syria and Egypt had disappeared. The areas set aside for particular units became the themes (θέμα, thema, "placement," plural, θέματα, themata, from the Greek verb τίθημι, tithēmi, "to put" -- related to thesis).

The Themes remained the military bedrock of Romania until the end of the 11th century and soon replaced the old Roman provinces as the administrative divisions of the Empire, with the commanding στρατηγός, stratēgos, "general," becoming the military governor of his theme. The commander of the Opsician Theme, Θέμα Ὀψικίου, however, was a κόμης, comes, "Count," in deference to the origin of the Theme from the Armies in the Emperor's Presence.

Thus, the Army of the East, driven out of Syria, was settled in the Anatolic Theme, where it would guard the obvious route for invasion or raids from Syria:  the Cilician Gates through the Taurus Mountains. Although invasions and raids there would be, the Arabs never did secure any conquests beyond the Gates. Where the Army of the East in the Late Empire numbered about 20,000 men, the forces of the Anatolic Theme varied from about 18,000 in 773 to 15,000 in 899 [Warren Treadgold, Byzantium and Its Army, 284-1081, Stanford, 1995, p.67].

As the remnants of the Late Roman Army were settled on the land (like the earlier Limitanei), there were also standing forces that accompanied the Emperor, like the old Comitatenses. There were already two such units in the Late Empire, the Scholae and the Excubitors -- the latter had been created by Leo I in 466 as a force of Isaurians to use, under its commander Zeno, against the Germans in the Eastern Army. These would be organized by Constantine V into the core of a new Standing or Mobile Army, the Tagmata (τάγματα, singular tagma, τάγμα, "regiment"), and would eventually grow into a large army in its own right. In 899, the Tagmata together numbered about 28,000 men, while the entire Army, Themes and Tagmata combined, added up to about 128,000 men [Treadgold, op.cit.].

This was less than half of the Augustan Army and not even a quarter of Constantine's; but considering that the Empire is reduced to the lower Balkans and Anatolia, about a quarter of its Late Antique size, it is proportionally still robust, especially in an Age when a paid military establishment was impossible in most of Europe.

As with the decline of the Limitanei, the late Macedonian Emperors began to neglect the Thematic forces and rely on the Tagmata, which soon filled with mercenaries. Some mercenaries could be quite faithful, like the Saxon refugees from Norman England who served in the Varangian Guard for more than three centuries (the Egklinovaraggoi). This worked reasonably well while there was money. But when the finances collapsed, loses could not be made good, or the more mercenary warriors retained. This led to fiascoes like the hire of the Catalan Company (1303), who mutinied (1305) and seized the Duchy of Athens (1311). Even under the Palaeologi, landed frontier forces (now the akritai, ἀκρίται) remained the best investment but were imprudently neglected, with disastrous consequences.

The maps of Romania now become much smaller. Egypt, Palestine, Spain, and North Africa are gone forever. Footholds in Italy and the Balkans remain. Greece and the Balkans would be recovered in time, but everything in Italy would eventually be lost also. For the time being, the heartland of the Empire will be Asia Minor. Although this would provide the resources for revival, even for colonization back into Greece, it was still open to Arab raids. They could not be precluded for a couple of centuries.

Khagans & Beks
Ashina Khagans
Ziebel, Yabghu Xak'an(?)618-630
allied with Heraclius, overruns Georgia, 627-628, takes Tiflis, 628
Interregnum, 630-650
Irbis (?)c.650
Busir (Ibuzir Glavan)c.690-715
Arabs defeated, 730; Barjik defeated & killed, 731
Prisbit Regent ?, 730's
To Omayyads, 737-c.740
Khan-Tuvan Dyggvic.825-830
The Khazars are an extremely important part of Roman history, entering it with a bang, as allies of
Heraclius against Persia and operating in conjunction with him in or near the Caucasus. Ziebel is supposed to have occupied Georgia, besieging Tiflis (Tbilisi) with Heraclius himself in 627 and then taking the city, with great massacre, in 628. The Khazars subsequently endured as Roman allies down to the height of the power of Middle Romania in the days of Nicephorus Phocas, but fading quickly thereafter. Four hundred years, however, is a considerable block of historical time.

The Khazars were of Turkic derivation, speaking a poorly attested Altaic language, apparently closely related to Hunnic, Bulgar (Bolghar), and the surviving modern Chuvash. Titles familiar from Bulgar, Mongolian, Persian, or Turkish as , Khagan (خَاقَان), Qaghan, or , Khān (خَان), and , Beg (بَك) or Bey, occur here as "Khagan" or "Xak'an" and "Bek." The Byzantine histories I know about do not give any lists of Khazar rulers, but Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies came through with most of the information I am able to use here. A lot of this, on the other hand, is not present to what we would want to call "the light of history"; and many of the events involving the Khazars are very obscure.

The Khazar realm began as the westernmost reach of the Gök (or Kök) Turkiut Great Turkish Khanate, which extended across Central Asia. This vast but poorly documented realm broke up into Eastern and Western halves in 553/554.
Hazer Tarkhan?-737
To Omayyads, 737-c.740
Bulanid Beks/Khagans?
Bulan Sabrielc.740
Manasseh I
Manasseh II
Aaron Ic.900
Aaron IIc.920's-940
sovereignty broken by Sviatoslav I of Kiev, 965-969
Davidin Taman, c.986-988
Georgius Tzulin Kerch,
The Khazars were a further fragment of this, at the Westernmost end, around the Lower Volga, ruled by a branch of the ruling Ashina Dynasty. Exactly when the Khazars become independent of the Western Khanate is obscure, and the Khagan Ziebel who helped Heraclius may or may not be identical to Tun[g] Yabgu (or Yabghu) Khagan (or Xak'an) of the Western Khanate.

This Khagan is reported by Moses Dasxuranci as delivering an ultimatum to the Shāh Khusro II circa 627:

If you will not retreat from the king of the Romans and surrender to him all the lands and cities which you have taken by force and return all of the prisoners of his country now in your hands, together with the wood of the Cross which all Christian nations worship and honor; if you will not recall your troops from his territory, the king of the north, the lord of the whole world, your king and the king of kings, says to you: "I shall turn against you, governor of Asorestan, and shall replay you twofold for each deed committed against him. I shall swoop upon your lands with my sword as you descended upon his with yours. I shall not spare you, nor shall I delay to do to you what I said I shall do." [Walter E. Kaegi, Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium, Cambridge, 2003, p.158]

Substantial help was provided for Heraclius, but not to this degree, and without even Heraclius acknowledging pretentions that sound more like those of Genghis Khan.

In 695, Justinian II was deposed, mutilated, and exiled to the Crimea. Before long, however, he escaped to the Khazars, where he contracted to marry the sister, then baptised "Theodora," of the Khagan Busir. Although Theodora was soon pregnant, Busir had second thoughts about harboring Justinian and estranging the new Emperor, Tiberias III. Justinian was forced to flee again, this time to the Bulgar Qaghan Tervel. In 705 Tervel marched on Constantinople to restore Justinian. The Emperor was able to enter the City with a small number of men through the previously broken Aqueduct of Valens, and resistance collapsed. Tervel was given the rank of Caesar, and the Khazar Khagan obligingly sent his sister and her new son to Constantinople. Unfortunately, both Justinian and his Khazar son were killed in his second and final deposition in 711.

The Khagan Barjik defeated and destroyed an Arab army of the Caliph Hishām outside Ardebil in Iran in 730, but he was then defeated and killed at Mosul a year later. With the Arabs then raiding into the Khazar homeland, in 733 the Emperor Leo III cemented the Roman-Khazar alliance by marrying his son, the future Emperor Constantine V, to the daughter, Tzitazk, of the Khazar Khagan, named as "Bihar." Baptized "Irene," her son would be the Emperor Leo IV, "the Khazar." Justinian's Khazar son had not become Emperor, but now two Emperors of the Syrian dynasty would have Khazar blood.

The line of Ashina Khagans now becomes shrouded in an obscurity even greater than what we previously had to contend with -- the "Tarkhan" of the 840's may even be a confusion, since the name actually can be a military rank. Instead, we begin to get indications of leadership falling on generals, the "Beks," who gradually overshadow or even replace the Khagans. Thus, it is the Bek Hazer Tarkhan whose army was destroyed by the Omayyads at Itil in 737. This led to a short occupation and forced Islamization of the Khazar homeland -- forced Islamization because the Khazars were still pagan and thus had no rights as "People of the Book." Under Islamic Law, their choice was conversion or death.

The means and spirit of resistance not lacking among the Khazars, Arab control was thrown off around 740. This experience, however, led to one of the most significant events in all of Khazar history:  the Conversion of the nation to Judaism. This may have happened as early as 740, or at late as 861. The earlier date corresponds to the rule of the Bek Bulan Sabriel, while the later date involves association with St. Cyril. The story is that the Khazars entertained appeals and arguments from representatives of all the major religions, Judaism, Christianity, and ʾIslām, before making their decision. Choosing Judaism may have involved a desire to remain independent of both Christian and Islamic powers. St. Cyril's visit was probably a bit late.

The existence of the Jewish Khazars immediately suggests that the subsequent Jews of Russia may be their descendants, However, modern Russian Jews have spoken Yiddish and look to be immigrants from Germany into areas of Poland that were subsequently annexed to Russia. In the same way, genetic studies tend to link Russian Jews with Jews elsewhere. On the other hand, Russians Jews often have red hair, which does not look like something of Middle Eastern origin but has historically occurred in Central Asia. Genghis Khan himself is often said to have had red hair. Also, we know that in 529 the Sassanid Shāh (or Crown Prince; he wasn't Shāh until 531) Khusro I expelled Jews from Persia and that they fled north of the Caucasus.

It is therefore possible that the Khazars converted to Judaism in part because there were Jews among them, with whom they had been or were then actually intermarrying. Bruce Gordon says that Khazar Jews were known to be present in Kiev and to have emigrated to places as diverse as Spain, Egypt, Iraq, Hungary, Poland, and the Crimea, where they intermarried with other Jews. This would imply a Khazar element in much of World Jewry. With all these possibilities, the questions about the Khazars and their Judaism are certain to continue.

Palestinian nationalism now claims that all European Jews are actually Khazars and so have no connection to the Middle East or Palestine. However, the historical record and genetic studies contradict this; and, most significantly, most Jewish immigration into Israel since its independence have been Middle Eastern Jews, who often look just like Arabs (as did my Iraqi Jew Arabic instructor at UCLA), and who have no connection to European Jewry, and certainly not to the Khazars. Yemeni Jews, now mostly moved to Israel, were in Yemen before the advent of ʾIslām.

Gordon mentions that the list of Bulanid Beks, who may have become the Khazar Khagans, is derived from a list sent by the Bek Joseph to Hisdai ibn Shaprut, a Jewish Vizir to the Omayyad Caliph ʿAbdur-Raḥmān III (912-961) in Spain. Joseph refers to himself as the "King of the Khazars."

Joseph's state, however, was in its last days. Sviatoslav I of Kiev attacks the Khazars in 965 and by 969 took the capital, Itil, on the Volga. Sviatoslav's attack was no more than a raid -- he was unable to establish any control of the area. Meanwhile, however, new nomads had arrived, the Cumans, who push the Khazars off the Steppe, until they disappear in the obscure realms of the Caucasus. Gordon gives two rulers from Khazar successor states that survived in the area, which brings Khazar history down to 1016, in the reign of the Emperor Basil II -- although there are apparent references to them even later. The rise of Russia and new movements of nomads in Central Asia would soon give Romania new allies and new formidable and deadly enemies.


Leo III the Isaurian
Siege of Constantinople by the Caliphs Sulaymān & ʿUmar II, 717-718; Christian rowers escape, Arab fleet destroyed, 718; volcanic eruption of Thera (Santorini), 726; Tax Revolt in Italy, end of Imperial authority in Exarchate, Exarch Paulicius assassinated, 727; Edict establishing Iconoclasm, 730; Ravenna falls to Lombards, 739, soon recovered; Arab army destroyed at Akronion in Phrygia, ʿAbdallāh al-Baṭṭāl killed, 740; earthquakes in Constantinople, 740

Constantine V
revolt of Artavasdus, 741-743; plague, 745-748; Arab fleet destroyed off Cyprus, return of Plague, 747; Ravenna Falls to Lombards, 751; Iconoclast Council, 754; defeat of Bulgars, 763; Aqueduct of Valens restored, 767; defeat of Bulgars, 774
Leo IV

the Khazar
Constantine VI780-797

Irene the Athenian
780-790, Regent
792-802, d.803
Council VII, Nicaea II, Iconoclasm condemned, 787; Black Sea freezes, winter of 800-801
Leo III seized the Throne just in time to hold off another Arab siege of Constantinople. This one, besides the use of Greek Fire again, would be distinguished by two extraordinary circumstances. One was that many of the rowers in the Arab fleet were Egyptian Christians. They would defect en masse to the Romans, leaving the Arab fleet hopelessly undermanned. Next, the Arabs were to suffer from attacks by the
Bulgar Qaghan Tervel. Whether this was from design and alliance, or just because the Arabs had annoyed the Bulgars, is a matter of some uncertainty.

The result, however, was, not only attacks on the Arabs in their rear, but the inability of the investing army to obtain supplies. Hunger and the cold, as well as harassment by the Roman fleet, took their toll; and finally the Arabs were instructed to withdraw. But that was not the end of their troubles. Their fleeing ships were hit by a storm in the Aegaean, and then many ships were set afire by volcanic ash from Thera. Few ships and little of the Army were able to return home. This turned out to be a serious blow against the strength of the Omayyad Dynasty itself; and the Arab Caliphates would not again attempt to seize Constantinople.

Meanwhile, the position of Romania in the West deteriorated. With Africa gone, it became harder to project authority into Italy and harder to resist the Lombards. John Julius Norwich (A History of Venice, Vintage, 1989) links the election of the first Doge of Venice with Leo's prohibition of images; but the election was in 727, during a tax revolt, not in 730, when Leo did prohibit images, alienating the Western Church.

730 AD

The prohibition of religious images began the Iconoclasm controversy. One way to understand it is to realize that the conflict between ʾIslām and Christendom was not just a contest of arms but, mutatis mutandis, an ideological struggle. Christians were not being accused, to be sure, of oppressing the workers, but they were being accused of being polytheists (because of the Trinity) and idolaters (for making and venerating images). We do not know how much Roman art was destroyed by the Iconoclasts, but even now many German churches show the scars of the destruction of images by Protestants.

Indeed, some Islāmic attitudes are familiar from later religious ideological conflict, since disgust and condemnation of a priesthood, monasticism, and celibacy, not to mention the use of images, could later draw sympathy from Protestantism. The Thousand and One Nights derives great humor from the notion that the incense burned by Christians (but not, of course, by later Protestants) was made from the dung of bishops.

Since Leo III is considered to have come from either Syria or the nearby Isauria, his concern about this issue is supposed to have resulted from his sensitivity to the effect of Islāmic charges on the previously Christian populations of the areas, like Syria, conquered by ʾIslām. Conversions did not have to be effected by force, which is now said to be prohibited by the Qurʾān. Nevertheless, the alternatives of torture and death or conversion are not unheard of. But powerful persuasion is easily understood in modern terms, ideologically and with tax incentives.

So Leo, a sort of proto-Protestant, decided to clean up Christianity's act. This did not find any traction in the West, however. The Latin Church felt no sting from Islāmic ideology. Leo's successes against the Arabs, obvious evidence of the favor of God, became associated with Iconoclasm. After images were restored by Irene, and military reverses seemed to follow, the favor of God was apparently withdrawn. The final Iconoclast period (815-843) was of such mixed military fortunes, with a serious defeat in 838, that worries about the favor of God faded, as Papal support for images had never faltered. But meanwhile, a great deal of Late Antique art seems to have been lost.

At the same time, we notice that icons, not statuary, have since characterized Orthodox churches and worship. The Latin Church still favors statuary.

The Eruption of Thera, 726 AD

A geologically significant event occurred with the eruption of the volcanic island of Thera (Santorini) in 726. The volcano had been active since 718, but the eruption of 726 blew ash as far away as Macedonia. This may have been the largest eruption in Europe since Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Such an event may have contributed to Leo's sense that the Wrath of God had been provoked and that something like Iconoclasm was the proper response.

In the longer view of history, the most striking thing about the event is its echo of the great eruption of Thera that is now dated to have been between 1627 and 1600 BC (right at the end of the Egyptian Second Intermediate Period). This wiped out what seems to have been a very large city of the Minoan Civilization on Thera. With ash, earthquakes, and tsunamis affecting Crete, the eruption may have delivered a devastating blow to that Civilization, which then limped on in part through its Greek, Mycenaean adaptation. Memory of the event may account for the stories of Atlantis related by Plato.

Today Thera is a popular tourist destination, though the bay of the caldera is too deep for ships to anchor. Recently (April 6, 2007), the cruise ship Sea Diamond sank in the bay, with the loss of two passengers.

Ravenna, 751 AD

The final fall of Ravenna to the Lombards in 751 led to the intervention of the Franks in Italy, at the urging of Pope Stephen III. Romania would never return to Central or Northern Italy. Nevertheless, the form of the Exarchate of Ravenna across central Italy, a corridor held between the Lombards in the north and those in the south, survived as the "Donation" of the Frankish King Pepin to the Pope -- the Papal States, whose history ran from 754 to 1870, 1116 years.

Thus, although politically insignificant after 751, Ravenna nevertheless casts a kind of shadow deep into modern history -- including the name that, as a Roman capital, the city gives to the surrounding region, Romagna -- a word that looks like "Romania" where the "i" has patalalized the "n," the equivalent of Romaña, as we might write it in Spanish.

Even as late as 1500 AD, as we see on the map at left (Historical Atlas of the World, Barnes & Noble, 1970, 1972, p.49), the Archbishop of Ravenna has jurisdiction over an area of Northern Italy still coextensive with the historic Romagna. But it was in Bologna, the largest city of the region, where the Pope last crowned a Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in 1530. Note that Modena and Parma are separate states in the Renaissance.

In 1582 Bologna was raised to the status of an Archbishopric and removed from the jurisdiction of Ravenna. There had been some earlier shufflings like that, but this finally reduced Ravenna to its modern, limited status. Nevertheless, the place occasionally attracts a certain kind of educated Romantic, like Lord Byron or a character in Brideshead Revisited [Evelyn Waugh, 1945].

Archbishops of Ravenna

The Tagmata, 743 AD

The Fall of Ravenna was on the watch of Constantine V, who came to be called Κοπρώνυμος, "Copronymus," "Name of Dung" -- certainly one the harshest, crudest epithets in the history of royalty. Nevertheless, Constantine's reign may be regarded as generally successful, and the epithet is simply due to his persecution, including torture and execution, of those opposed to Iconoclasm. In another proto-Protestant move, Constantine began forcing monks and nuns, strong supporters of icons, to marry. Otherwise, there were military successes against the Bulgars and even Arabs, where the Abbasid Revolution disrupted the attention of the Caliphate.

Constantine also began developing mobile military units, the tagmata (τάγματα, singular, tagma, τάγμα, from tassein, τάσσειν, "to arrange, put in order" or "to draw up in order of battle" -- "regiment" would thus be an appropriate translation), in addition to the landed thematic forces that had become fundamental to Roman military power. The units were commanded by a Domestic (Domesticus, Δομέστικος), except the Watch, whose commander was a Drungarius, Δρουγγάριος τῆς Βίγλης. This represented the first steps back to a paid professional army and so is a sign of a reviving economy. The Empire, however, would never be able to remain strong without the themes, and their collapse at the end of the 11th century would be the end of Romania as a hegemonic power.

Eventually the Tagmata consisted of the Scholae, Σχολαί ("Schools"), the Numera, Νούμεροι ("Number," feminine of Latin Numerus, used for a military unit), the Walls (Τειχισταί, Teichistai, or τῶν Τειχέων, tôn Teicheôn, "of the Walls"), the Excubitors, Ἐξκουβίτορες ("Sentinels"), the Ὀπτιμάτοι, Optimates (Latin "the Best"), the Watch (Vigla, Βίγλα, familar from "Vigil" in English, or Ἀριθμός, Arithmos, equivalent to Numerus in meaning), the Ἱκανάτοι, Hicanati ("Able Ones"), the Immortals (Ἀθάνατοι, Athanatoi, named for the elite unit of Achaemenid Persia, whose members were replaced as soon as they fell), and, finally, the Varangian Guard.

The Scholae were Guard units founded by Constantine I. The Numera and Walls were garrison troops for Constantinople, doubtlessly dating from the foundation of the City. The Excubitors had been created by Leo I with Isaurian recruits as part of his plan to purge the Army of Germans. All these units had rather withered until Constantine V, who recreated them as his own personal force after the revolt of Count Artabasdos (741–743) of the Opsician Theme, Θέμα Ὀψικίου.

The status of the Optimates, which began as a fighting force with the other Tagmata, soon became a support unit, providing and supervising transport and logistics. Its commander remained a Domesticus, but it was settled on land, like a Thematic army, in the Ὀπτιμάκων, Optimakôn ("of the Optimates") Theme on the Asian side of the Bosporus, where other Tagmata units might be quartered. The Optimates thus are best regarded as a Thematic force that nevertheless is dedicated to the support of the Tagmata.

The next Tagma added to the Army was the Watch, created by the Empress Irene from drafts of Thematic soldiers because the Scholae and others were strongly Iconoclast in sentiment and were interfering with her plans to Restore the Icons.

There is some confusion about the names here. The Watch (Vigla) was also called the Arithmos, "Number," which was equivalent to Latin Numerus. A "Watch" should be a garrison force in Constantinople, and the coincidence of alternative names, like "Numera" and Arithmos, may have resulted in a mistaken switch between them. From its name, the Watch does sound like part of the garrison force of Constantinople, since it has always been the job of a Watch, before the existence of police forces, to patrol cities at night to enforce the law and the peace. In modern Tokyo, one might notice an actual Watch is still active, although its members may take their charge less seriously than the real police patrol, and one suspects some drinking has been involved. They get to go around, ring a gong, and loudly announce the Japanese equivalent of "All is well."

We find Odo of Deuil (1110-1162) with what seems to be a complaint about street crime in Constantinople: "There murder and robberies occur, as well as other sordid crimes which love the dark." This leaves us wondering whether Odo experienced this crime himself, and to what extent the Watch was effective at controlling such things. We don't get a lot of details about law enforcement from the historians.

Warren Treadgold says that under Constantine V the "senior tagmata, the Scholae, Excubitors, and Watch" were cavalry units, while the "junior tagmata, the Numera, Walls, and Optimates," were infantry [Byzantium and its Army, 284-1081, Sanford, 1995, p.28]. He also adds that the Hicanati, created by Nicephorus I, were "a fourth cavalry tagma" [p.29]. The idea that a "Watch" would be cavalry itself looks incongruous, so I think that Treadgold may be tangled in the potential confusion here. And there is another problem. If Irene created the "Watch," then it cannot have been among the "senior tagmata" at the time of Constantine V, as Treadgold says.

Irene may have transformed the (preexisting) Watch into a proper tagma, as Constantine V did with the original units he took in hand. Or we may be confused, and Irene introduces a new military unit whose name we have simply transposed with an alternative name for the Watch. The final tagmata, the Immortals and the Varangian Guard, would be added by the Macedonians.

My suspicion then is that we should arrange the tagmata as at right. The Walls and the Watch are both forces of infantry, originating with Constantine I, on foot patrol in Constantinople, the one, as we might imagine, on the walls and the gates, the other to keep order on the streets. The Scholae are the Emperor's personal cavalry unit. The Excubitors, Numera, and Hicanti then are all added as cavalry units under the Emperor's personal command, the first two at least under circumstances where the Emperor, or Empress, requires additional protection against disloyalty, opponents, or rebels. The Varangian Guard, with their large axes, could not easily be on horseback, and we do see them close around where the Emperor is on foot. Their presence was taken to signify the location of the Emperor.

Empress Irene of Athens

As Frankish power waxed, the Pope took the step of crowning the Frankish King Charles as Emperor in 800. This was during the reign of Irene of Athens, Εἰρήνη ἡ Ἀθηναία, born Σαρανταπήχαινα, some of whose actions I have already noted. Although Irene restored the images and reconciled the Eastern and Western Churches, the Pope decided to arrogate the authority of crowning a proper, male Emperor to himself --
The Donation of Constantine, 1247, San Silvestro Chapel at Santi Quattro Coronati, Rome
later justified with the fraudulent "Donation of Constantine" document, by which Constantine I had supposedly given the entire Western Empire to the Pope.

While Charlemagne even offered to marry Irene, who could have regarded him as only the rudest of barbarians, this all signaled a fundamental parting of the ways between the Latin Europe of Pope and Franks (Francia) and the Orthodox Europe of Romania.

Irene constitutes an interesting case for feminism. We have seen elsewhere how Irene has been included among the "10 most despicable Romans" in a popular but irresponsible treatment. Irene had taken the throne exclusively for herself, the only Empress ever to do so. One problem with this was that she did it by deposing and blinding her own son, Constantine VI. He died from this treatment, which might not surprise us, but then blinding was done at this point without unusual danger of death. Michael V, blinded during the riot that deposed him, a situation where we would not expect much care to be taken, nevertheless did not die. So we might wonder if there was something unusual about the blinding of Constantine VI.

Note the parallels between the reign of Irene and that of the earlier Empress Wu (685-705) of T'ang Dynasty China. But Irene's actions went well beyond what was done by the Chinese Empress, who deposed not one but two sons. But the Empress Wu did not harm her sons and was succeeded by them (the Chung Tsung and Jui Tsung Emperors). When Irene was deposed (and sent to exile on Lesbos), it meant the end of the Isaurian dynasty.

Thus, Irene violated multiple "gender norms," more than Wu, not just by assuming the full power of a Roman Emperor but, in effect, killing her son. Some mother. Other Empresses left on the Throne by the death of a husband, or by inheritance, married or remarried to provide a man to run the government and army. The women were not expected to rule in their own right. Irene did, and even seized power on her own initiative.

So Irene must have been generally hated, yes? Actually, no. Calling the Seventh Ecumenical Council and having it Restore the Icons (787) earned Irene, not just the forgiveness of all her sins, but Canonization in the Orthodox Church. She was revered as far away as St. Catharine's monastery on Mt. Sinai, which had been under the rule of ʾIslām for a couple of centuries at that point. Although the Icons had to be Restored all over again later (in 843), the Church Doctrine, decided by Council VII, is the still the doctrinal law in the matter, for the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox ones (or at least those in communion with Constantinople). Irene gets no credit for this from the Catholic Church, but then Papal ideology will credit the Greek Church with little for anything.

The Empress Wu was not so lucky as Irene. Confucian misogynists found no reason to see any good in her, and they didn't like her Buddhism either. As with some other successful women rulers, hostile historians fantasized over her sexual appetities and practices. We actually don't get much of that about Irene.

The treatment of Irene contrasts in interesting ways with the ancient and modern treatment of Anna Comnena, who, we will see, seemed to earn a great deal of misogynistic dismissal and dislike just for being learned and writing a history. Since no crimes or misconduct could be attributed to her, a couple were invented. So why the hostility to Anna and the pass for Irene? Well, there may be a dynamic here where intellectuals, who condemn tyranny and oppression in the abstract, nevertheless become strangely attracted and enamored of ruthless people. In other words, to get intellectuals to love you, you need to exhibit a frightening potential for violence.

As Nietzsche would say, the powerless, the eunuchs, like intellectuals and priests, who denounce power, actually love power and will debase themselves before it -- something Julian Benda noted in La Trahison des Clercs [1927, The Treason of the Intellectuals, 1928], when he could see the reaction to living, contemporary Fascism and Communism. We have also seen the phenomenon whereby intellectuals, who become apologists for dictators, by denying that murders or massacres were taking place under them (the most appalling case being in poor Cambodia), only tend to be attracted to, and offer apologies for, such regimes while the murders and massacres actually are taking place, losing interest when their conduct moderates. Thus, the very thing they deny, in bad faith, is what they actually admire. This probably helps account for the popularity of Nietzsche himself, despite apologists disguising what he said. American "celebrities" and politicians making the pilgrimage to Cuba and kissing the ring (or nethers) of Fidel Castro tells the whole story.

Thus, it may well be that the obvious power and ruthlessness of Irene attracts rather than repells them. Feminists have a better excuse for this, since they are supposed to admire powerful women -- although their dislike of a powerful woman like Margaret Thatcher betrays their true ideological commitment (i.e. to communism). When it comes to Irene, the Restoration of the Icons means nothing either to feminists or to modern intellectuals in general. So they are going to admire her just for her power. On the other hand, the dislike for Anna may be for the extent she retained, and wanted to be seen to retain, womanly qualities. Today, it is nothing unusual for women to write history, but it is more unusual for them to wail and lament and weap as Anna allows herself to do in her history. So the feminists and others, who really seem to despise "womanly" ways, are turned off.

Anna Komnene, by Leonore Neville, Oxford, 2016

5. DOGES (DUKES) OF VENICE, 727-1797
Orso (Ursus) Ipato727-738
Teodato (Deusdedit) Ipato742, 744-736
Ravenna falls to Lombards, 751
Galla Gaulo756
Domenico Monegaurio756-765
Maurizio I Galbaio765-787
Giovanni and Maurizio II Galbaio787-802
Obelerio Antenorio802-811
Venetia & Dalmatia submit to Franks, 806; Roman fleet reestablishes authority, 807
Angello Partecipazio811-827
Giustiniano Partecipazio827-829
Body of St. Mark (or is it Alexander the Great?) smuggled in from Alexanderia, 828
Giovanni (I) Partecipazio829-836
Pietro Tradonico836-864
Orso I Badoer (I Partecipazio)864-881
Giovanni Badoer (II Partecipazio)881-888
Venice effectively independent, 886
Pietro I Candiano887
Pietro Tribuno888-912
Orso II Badoer (II Partecipazio)912-932
Pietro II Candiano932-939
Pietro Badoer (Partecipazio)939-942
Pietro III Candiano942-959
Pietro IV Candiano959-976
Pietro I Orseolo976-978
Vitale Candiano978-979
Tribuno Menio (Memmo)979-991
Pietro II Orseolo991-1008
Ottone Orseolo1008-1026, 1030-1032
Pietro Centranico (Barbolano)1026-1030
Domenico Flabianico1032-1043
Domenico Contarini1043-1070
Reconstruction of St. Mark's Cathedral begun, 1063
Domenico Silvio (Selvo)1070-1084
Trade concession with Romania, 1082
Vitale Falier1084-1096
St. Mark's Cathedral consecrated, relics of St. Mark deposited, 1094
Vitale I Michiel (Michel)1096-1101
Ordelafo Falier1101-1118
Domenico Michiel1118-1129
Pietro Polani1129-1148
Domenico Morosini1148-1155
Vitale II Michiel1155-1172
all Venetians arrested in Romania, Enrico Dandolo loses an eye, 1171; plague brought to Venice, Doge killed by mob, 1172
Sebastiano Ziani1172-1178
Orio Mastropiero (Malipiero)1178-1192
Enrico Dandolo1192-1205
Fourth Crusade, 1202-1204; Constantinople falls to Crusaders & Venetians, 1204; Venice ceded 3/8 of Romania
Pietro Ziani1205-1229
Giacomo Tiepolo1229-1249
Marino Morosini1249-1253
Reniero Zeno1253-1268
Restoration of Greek rule in Constantinople, 1261
Lorenzo Tiepolo1268-1275
Jacopo Contarini1275-1280
Giovanni Dandolo1280-1289
Venetians mint Ducats after Roman debasement, 1284
Pietro Gradenigo1289-1311
Venetian fleet destroyed by Genoa at Curzola, Marco Polo captured, 1298
Marino Zorzi1311-1312
Giovanni Soranzo1312-1328
Francesco Dandolo1328-1339
Bartolomeo Gradenigo1339-1342
Andrea Dandolo1343-1354
Crown Jewels of Romania pawned, 1343; Black Death arrives at Venice, 1347; War with Genoa, 1350-1355
Marino Falier1354-1355
Giovanni Gradenigo1355-1356
Giovanni Dolfin1356-1361
Lorenzo Celsi1361-1365
Marco Corner1365-1368
Corfu acquired, 1368
Andrea Contarini1368-1382
Michele Morosini1382
Antonio Venier1382-1400
Michele Steno1400-1413
Mission from Ethiopia, 1402
Tommaso Mocenigo1414-1423
Francesco Foscari1423-1457
Thessalonica ceded by Romania, 1423, captured by Turks, 1430; reward offered for death of Skanderbeg, 1447; aids Ottomans in siege of Albanian fortress of Sfetigrad, Venetians defeated by Skanderbeg, Drin River, 1448; aids Ottoman siege of Croya, defeated by Skanderbeg; 1450; Patriarch of Grado becomes Patriarch of Venice, 1451; Constantinople falls to Turks, Venetian baillie executed, others executed, enslaved, ransomed, 1453
Pasquale Malipiero1457-1462
Cristoforo Moro1462-1471
possesion of the Monembasia fortress, 1463-1538; Euboia (Negroponte) falls to Turks, 1470
Nicolò Tron1471-1473
Nicolò Marcello1473-1474
Pietro Mocenigo1474-1476
Andrea Vendramin1476-1478
Giovanni Mocenigo1478-1485
Marco Barbarigo1485-1486
Agostino Barbarigo1486-1501
Cyprus passes to Venice, 1489; inconclusive battles at Zonchio (Navarino), 1499, 1500; Lepanto, Modon, Corone & Zonchio fall to Turks, 1500
Leonardo Loredan1501-1521
Antonio Grimani1521-1523
Andrea Gritti1523-1538
Monembasia falls to Turks, 1538
Pietro Lando1539-1545
Francesco Donato1545-1553
Marcantonio Trevisan1553-1554
Francesco Venier1554-1556
Lorenzo Priuli1556-1559
Girolamo Priuli1559-1567
Pietro Loredan1567-1570
Alvise I Mocenigo1570-1577
Turkish Conquest of Cyprus, 1571; Battle of Lepanto, naval defeat of Turkey by Spain, Venice, & Malta, Ottoman commander, Ali Pasha, captured & beheaded, 1571; Plague, 1575, 1577, quarter of population dies
Sebastiano Venier1577-1578
Commander at Lepanto
Nicolò da Ponte1578-1585
Pasquale Cicogna1585-1595
Marino Grimani1595-1605
Leonardo Donato1606-1612
Marcantonio Memmo1612-1615
Giovanni Bembo1615-1618
Nicolò Donato1618
Antonio Priuli1618-1623
Francesco Contarini1623-1624
Giovanni Corner1625-1629
Nicolò Contarini1630-1631
Francesco Erizzo1631-1646
Francesco Molin1646-1655
Carlo Contarini1655-1656
Francesco Corner1656
Bertucci (Albertuccio) Valier1656-1658
Giovanni Pesaro1658-1659
Domenico Contarini1659-1675
Conquest of Crete by Turkey, 1669
Nicolò Sagredo1675-1676
Luigi Contarini1676-1684
Marcantonio Giustinian1684-1688
possession of Monembasia fortress, 1684-1715; Parthenon destroyed in explosion under Venetian bombardment, 1687
Francesco Morosini1688-1694
Silvestro Valier1694-1700
Alvise II Mocenigo1700-1709
French warships in Adriatic, "Wedding of the Sea" ritual cancelled, 1702
Giovanni II Corner1709-1722
Monembasia falls to Turks, 1715; Turks repulsed from Corfu, 1716; neutral in European conflicts, 1718
Alvise III Mocenigo1722-1732
Carlo Ruzzini1732-1735
Alvise Pisani1735-1741
Pietro Grimani1741-1752
Francesco Loredan1752-1762
Marco Foscarini1762-1763
Alvise IV Mocenigo1763-1778
Paolo Renier1779-1789
Anti-piracy attack on Tunis, 1785
Lodovico Manin1789-1797, d. 1802
Venice Falls to Napoleon Bonaparte, 1797
Venice was the "Most Serene Republic" (Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia), or the "Queen of the Adriatic." The title of Doge derives from that of a late Roman commander of a military frontier, Dux ("leader," δούξ in Greek, duce in Modern Italian). This is cognate to English "
Duke." The Doges were always elected, from a variety of families, as their names indicate. Over time their powers were increasingly limited, as Venice evolved into an oligarchic Republic. The Duke of Venetia at first would have been like many other Roman officials in Italy, such as the Dukes of Naples, but Constantinople rarely had occasion or ability to exert direct rule over Venice, so over time the city drifted into independence, competition, and eventually belligerence.

The name "Venice" is derived from the name of the Roman province that embraced the whole area, Venetia. The principal city of Venetia was Aquileia. Although sacked by the Goths, the Huns, and the Lombards, Aquileia remained the most important city of the region for most of the Middle Ages. However, in the troubled times, people would flee the mainland to barrier islands along the coast or to islands in the lagoons behind them. Aquileia itself thus acquired a counterpart, Grado, on the nearby barrier island.

To the west, a community formed on Rialto Island in the much larger lagoon seaward from Padua. Farming or building on such islands was a challenge. Earth needed to be brought in or dredged up to fill plots created from woven grasses. Substantial buildings required foundations of logs driven down into the muddy soil. Eventually this allowed a large city to rise on the Rialto.

As its strength grew, the Rialto became powerful and preeminent and took on the name of the whole province -- Venetia, Venezia, Venice. The power of Aquileia was reduced by Austria, and finally the city itself was annexed by Venice in 1420. The Patriarchate that had been seated at Aquileia, and then had been divided with Grado, ultimately moved to Venice alone.

Venice was briefly in the power of Franks. According to Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, the Venetians told King Pepin, "We want to be servants of the emperor of the Romans, and not of you" [De Administrando Imperio, Greek text edited by Gy. Moravcsik and translated by R.J.H. Jenkins, Dumbarton Oaks, Center for Byzantine Studies, 1967, p.121]. Eventually the Venetians agreed to pay tribute, but it steadily declined to a merely nominal sum.

Since 1451, Venice has been the seat of the Patriarchs of Venice, whose story can be examined in a separate popup. Although it is commonly thought that the mainland was abandoned in the 5th century and the whole population moved permanently to places like the Rialto, this does not seem to have been the case. It was a more gradual process, and the success of Venice may have been due to the realization that it provided defense, not against barbarian invasions, but in the face of the Frankish Emperors and other mainland powers.

Venice, indeed, would be immune to conquest until Napoleon, whose imposition of "republican" government on the Republic curiously coincided with the looting of artwork, some of which, like The Wedding Feast at Cana, by Paolo Veronese, was never returned.

While The Wedding Feast was supposed to be returned to Venice in 1815, the Louvre falsely claimed that it was too fragile to move. Nevertheless, it was moved many times to protect it from Nazi looting during World War II, until the liberation of Paris in 1944. In 2007, a full-sized computer-generated, digital facsimile of The Wedding Feast was donated and hung where the painting was originally sited, in the Palladian refectory of the Monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. While nice, this still doesn't seem quite right. The original still hangs in the Louvre. People are still recovering art looted by the Nazis.

The Wedding Feast at Cana, Nozze di Cana, 1562–1563, by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)

After the Schism of the Eastern and Western Churches (1054), there came to be growing religious hostility between Venice and her metropolis. However, Venice never quite fit in to the political system of Francia. For a while, as noted, the Republic paid tribute to the Carolingians but quickly enough shook off any obligation. Playing Constantinople and the West against each other, Venice never really acknowledged the authority of the Frankish or German Emperors and in time was relatively safe in its lagoon from attempts to impose imperial authority, whether from East or West. With the decline of Romania, Venice largely pursued its affairs at the expense of Constantinople and only came to be pushed out of the area altogether by the Ottomans.

The list of Doges is taken from Byzantium and Venice, A Study in Diplomatic and Cultural Relations, by Donald M. Nicol [Cambridge University Press, 1988, 1999], and Storia di Venezia Volume II, by Eugenio Musatti [4th edition, Fratelli Treves Editori, Milano, 1937]. A complete list can also be found in A History of Venice, by John Julius Norwich [Vintage Books, 1989].

When Alexius Comnenus signed a pact with Venice in 1082, the Republic became a partner with the now beleaguered Constantinople. During the honeymoon period we get the completion of St. Mark's Cathedral -- a mature Romania seeding its culture into the maturing Venice.

The honeymoon didn't last. The pact gave Venice a choke hold on the trade of Romania and on naval power in Roman waters -- on at least one occasion Venetians burned Roman warships on the stocks before they could be completed. Although Alexius didn't have much choice at the time, this led to retaliation later. Manuel I arrested all Venetians in 1171 and little but hostile relations followed -- even peaceful exchanges revealed tragic inequality, as when the Imperial Crown Jewels were pawned with Venice in 1343.

Rialto Bridge, Venice, 2019
The fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade in 1204 was largely engineered by the Doge Enrico Dandolo, who was actually buried in Sancta Sophia. By the settlement with the Crusaders, Venice was ceded 3/8 of the Empire, and the Doge henceforth styled himself quartae partis et dimidiae totius imperii Romaniae Dominator ("Lord of a quarter and a half [of a quarter] of the whole Empire of Romania"). Norwich interestingly translates this as "Lord of ... the Roman Empire" (p.147), but the phrase was imperium Romaniae, "Empire of Romania," not imperium Romanum, "Roman Empire." Venice was obviously not claiming 3/8 of the Empire of Trajan, but of the much reduced mediaeval Romania (this looks like part of the conspiracy to ignore the word "Romania" in Roman and "Byzantine" studies). This fragmentation of Romania helped Venice maintain her advantages, but it weakened the whole in the face of the eventual Ottoman threat. Venice could neither hold off the Turks nor support a local state strong enough to do so.

Small Canal, Venice, 2019
When the Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus took Constantinople back from the Crusaders, he conferred commercial advantages, not on Venice, but on her hated rival, Genoa, which, of course, had been Roman until lost to the Lombards in 642. This confirmed that Italy rather than Romania would be the center of trade and naval power in the Christian Mediterranean. Genoa was even granted the city of Galata, just across the Golden Horn from Constantinople itself, in 1267. As the Turks fatally invested Constantinople in 1453, it was Genoa rather than Venice that contributed to its defense -- though Galata itself remained neutral.

The most famous Venetian of the 13th century, and possibly of all history, was Marco Polo (c.1254-c.1324). Polo's business travels with his father and uncle to the China of Qubilai Khan might have gone unrecorded, like the stories of many other such travelers, if he had not been taken prisoner by the Genoese in 1298. Languishing in prison in Genoa, Polo began telling his story to a fellow prisoner. This happened to be the Pisan writer Rustichello (or Rusticiano), who thought that Polo's tales might make a good book and wrote it up, in French.

This Divisament dou Monde, "Description of the World," soon to be called Il milione, "The Millions," was more a catalogue of places than a narrative of travels.
Gondolas with Singing Gondolier, Venice, 2019
Nevertheless, it was a sensation -- though people had trouble believing the numbers and scale of the places and domains described. One story about Polo himself is that he was questioned about just this on his deathbed. He replied, "I haven't told the half of it."

Now that we know independently about the Mongol Empire, even this anecdote has the ring of truth. China alone was vast beyond the reckoning of 13th century Europe. Although serious questions have been raised about some of Polo's claims, details of his story, like the custom of the Chinese of making offerings to the dead by burning paper money or paper copies of other things, are still familiar and unique features of Chinese culture.

The legend that Marco introduced noodles from China is now commonly discounted, but there is little doubt that someone did that in this era. The Romans were not eating pasta, but at some point we realize that the Italians are. If we then ask where such a preparation existed previously, the answer is China -- something probably as old as Chinese history and still the traditional alternative to rice in any Chinese (or Japanese, etc.) restaurant. As it happens, there are indications that noodles had already come down the Silk Road and been passed on through ʾIslām; but nothing was to stop Polo from bringing his own noodles, to unknown local effect.

Doge's Palace, Venice, 2019

What seems extraordinary about Venice now is how a mere city had become a Great Power, contending on terms of equality, if not superiority, with all of Romania. The tail wagging the dog indeed. And while Venice was never the equal of Turkey, it was for long one of the major belligerents contesting Ottoman advances. What this reveals is the stark difference in wealth between the cash economy of a commercial republic (Venice began minting gold Ducats in 1284) and, on the one hand, the poverty of subsistent kingdoms, like other Western European states and, on the other hand, the fractured economy of Romania, which had previously perpetuated commercial traditions. Venice was soon joined by other Italian cities, like Pisa and then Genoa, in exercising the power made possible by their wealth.

As commercial life began to grow in the North, the Italians began to lose their advantage. After Flanders and the Netherlands became centers of trade and manufacture, the Dukes of Burgundy first benefited from this wealth, then the Hapsburgs, and finally the Netherlands as an independent power.
Church of San Barnaba, used in Indian Jones and the Last Crusade [1989], Venice, 2019
The latter eventuality is especially revealing. The Netherlands was a commercial republic again as Burgundy and the Hapsburg domains had not been. What's more, Amsterdam became the center of European banking, with that preeminence passing from, as it happened, the cities of Northern Italy (remembered in "Lombard Street" in the City of London). The next financial centers, of Europe and the World, would be London and then New York.

In the course of all that history, the apparent power of the Italian cities was punctured like a balloon in 1494, when King Charles VIII of France invaded Italy. This is one of the events regarded as marking the end of the Middle Ages. It certainly revealed the comparative disadvantage into which the Italian powers had fallen. A nice recent movie about this period was Dangerous Beauty (1998), about a popular courtesan who ends up in a tug-of-war between Venetian nobility and the (rather unwelcome in Venice) Holy Inquisition. We happen to notice in the course of the movie that Venice has been expelled from Cyprus by the Turks (1571).

Just as bad or worse for Venice's position was the Age of Discovery. The Italian cities had grown strong on the trade of the Levant, and the new Atlantic powers wanted very much to have a way to avoid their mediation, let alone that of Turkey and Mamlūk Egypt, in the transfer of goods from India and further East to Europe. Columbus, therefore, was out to make an end run. Since he ran into the Americas instead of Asia, this diverted Spanish energies, but for Portugal Vasco da Gama did the job of getting to India around Africa in 1498. This eliminated Italy or the Turks from any central position in world trade. They could only fade, in the most literal sense, into back-waters. The Ottomans briefly tried to project their power into the Indian Ocean, occupying Yemen, pressing upon Ethiopia, and even sending to aid to the distant Sulṭān of Acheh in Sumatra; but the effort, like other Ottoman initiatives, soon petered out.

If the power of Venice began to fade in the 15th and 16th centuries, she was nevertheless one of the intellectual centers of the Renaissance. No one had a greater role in this than Aldus Manutius (Teobaldo Mannucci, d.1515), who founded the Aldine Press and, with help of a large staff of Greek expatriates, created printed editions of a large part of Greek literature, often in the convenient octavo pocket editions that he popularized. He was personally motivated to see to it that Greek literature should not only be preserved in printed editions but be made available to all.

In 1502, Manutius founded a "New Academy," devoted entirely to Greek, with its business, rules, titles, etc. all conducted or rendered into Greek -- which was also the case in his own household. Indeed, the members of the Academy, who would include Erasmus, even adopted Hellenized names. The results of his publishing business, besides the pocket editions, included the Italic style of typeface and the formulation of modern punctuation, including the semicolon. Thus, Venice, which had done so much to destroy the power and civilization of Romania, nevertheless played a significant role in preserving its heritage. We must reflect on the irony of this.

The decline of the Turks in the 17th century allowed a brief Venetian resurgence, whose most striking event, however, was probably the destruction of the Parthenon in 1687, when a Venetian cannonball detonated an Ottoman powder magazine -- the ruin of the Acropolis was not produced by the Goths, the Huns, or any event of the Middle Ages, but by modern warfare.
Bridge of Sighs, Venice, 2019

By that time a city state was going to be no match for the colonial and maritime powers that were rapidly becoming modern nation states. Venice lapsed into a kind of 18th century version of Las Vegas, a curiosity and a diversion -- and Las Vegas has now reciprocated with the Venetian Hotel.

One of the sights of Venice, the "Bridge of Sighs," is a covered way that secretly transported prisoners back and forth from their star chamber trials to their hopeless cells. We might think of such cells as fitting our stereotype of Mediaeval dungeons: subterranean, dank, and dark -- let alone as Schopenhauer's horrifying "dungeon [Hungerthurm] of Ugolino." But nothing is subterranean in Venice, where the water table, as in New Orleans, is inches below the surface. The geology of Venice did not allow for dark dungeons.

Instead, the cells of the Venetian prison seem surprisingly large, airy, and well lighted from windows in adjacent corridors. Otherwise, it is hard to tell from that alone what kind of treatment prisoners received.
Prison Cell, Venice, 2019

However, we learn from the career of Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798), who saw the best and the worse of the City, from its marvelous entertainments and his own famous seductions to its terrible prisons and secret tribunals. Casanova was sentenced for immorality, and was put in the old cells, the "Leads," in the Doge's Palace. He suffered from darkness, summer heat (it was under the lead roof of the Palace), and fleas.

A particular noteworthy location in Venice is the Jewish Ghetto, the Ghetto Ebraico, whose name, of obscure etymology, is now applied to almost any ethnic, especially poorer, enclave in any city. The Ghetto in Venice, however, did not exist before 1516, although Jews did not always have the freedom of the city. Surrounded by canals, the bridges to the Ghetto were closed at night.

The Ghetto is now particuarly remembered because of Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, whose action revolves around the Jewish moneylender Shylock. This enters into the debate over the Shakespeare Authorship Question, since the play displays intimate knowledge of Venice, and in particular of the Ghetto. At least one individual building, still in existence, can be identified from the description in the play.

Since William Shakespeare never left England, it is not clear how he could have possessed this knowledge; and, defensively, scholars are reduced to speculation about his being briefed by Italian travelers, without evidence, on the details he uses in this play and others, since several plays are set in Italy. The simple explanation, that Shakespeare wasn't the author of this play, has been a matter of indignant debate now for almost two centuries -- already familiar to the young Mark Twain.

After invading Italy and defeating the Austrians, Napoleon had to exert little enough power to eliminate what had become an anchronism. The French were a little puzzled by the hostility of the Venetians to their occupation, since the rousing Republican rhetoric of the French didn't have the effect they expected -- but it was in a place that was, well, already a Republic. Napoleon, indeed, might have taken some lessons from the venerable and terrifying Venetian system of secret police and hidden inquisitorial courts.
Doge's Palace, Venice, 2019

However hostile to the French, the spirit of Venetian independence was soon forgotten, and it was the Sardinian Kingdom of Italy that detached Venice from Austria in 1866. The Venice of the subsequent period appears in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig, 1912), which has been described as, "a symbol-laden story of aestheticism and decadence..." Venice was just the place for that.

On the other hand, the art of Venice, in music -- as with Antonio Vivaldi (1680-1743) -- painting -- as with Titian, Tiziano Vecilli (1477-1576) -- and architecture, is an enduring and vivid monument. Part of this is a hint of the lost beauty of Constantinople, since St. Mark's Cathedral, crowned with four great horses from the Hippodrome and countless other treasures looted from Constantinople in 1204, is a copy of the vanished Church of the Holy Apostles, the burial place of Constantine and his successors (whose site is now occupied by the Fatih Jamii, the mosque, institute, and burial place of Meḥmed II, the Conqueror [Fātiḥ] of Constantinople). Although decorated with loot, the present church was completed earlier, in 1094 (or 1071), with the help of artisans from the still friendly Emperors.

The Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal, the Campanile bell tower (campana, "bell"), the Lido barrier island, and other structures and sites have now contributed their names, if not their images or functions, in countless modern landscapes.

Oxford University has its own Bridge of Sighs, at Hertford College (left), though it apparently was never used for the same purpose as the Venetian (mercifully). In fact, although it is labelled the "Bridge of Sighs" on all maps of Oxford, it is not called that in the College, simply "the Bridge"; and it looks more like Venice's Rialto Bridge than the Bridge of Sighs.

Cambridge University also has a Bridge of Sighs, across the Cam River, at St. John's College (right). The Campanile on the Berkeley campus of the University of California (the Sather Tower, below left), on the other hand, almost identical in appearance to the one in Venice, houses a fine carillon, a sort of organ with bells instead of pipes.

The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas reproduces several of the landmarks of Venice, although not St. Mark's. P.J. O'Rourke (1947-2022), in a humorous comparison of the hotel and the city, points out that the Rialto Bridge at the hotel has safety features to prevent children from falling through the bridge railings. In Venice itself, perhaps deprived of the American Tort Bar, it seems to be the responsibility of parents to keep their children from falling off the bridge into the Grand Canal.

Poised between Francia and Romania, Venice thus preserves much of the beauty and atmosphere that was lost and forgotten after successive catastrophies to Constantinople. The City ended up itself as something out of its time, a Mediaeval Republic in an age of nation states, even as now it is rather like a living museum, slowly sinking into the lagoon that originally gave it refuge.

Indeed, the low muddy islands in the lagoon, once a redoubt, now are Venice's greatest peril. With zero elevation, the City is vulnerable to high seas, high tides (only meaning, in the actual absence of tides in the Mediterranean, a surge brought about by storm winds blowing water up the Adriatic), and any significant changes in sea level -- which has risen about four inches in recent times.
Piazza San Marco, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, 2019
Pumping out ground water under the City, long the simplest source of water for mainland industry, threatens to leave the city permanently awash. The ground has subsided about a foot since this began to be done. That danger is now recognized and attempts have even been made to restore the water, though that is more difficult; and if it is done unevenly, then the foundation of buildings could be damaged.

However, the weight of buildings on the mud itself means they slowly sink; and, even worse, the whole geological province on the East side of Italy is being suppressed by tectonic forces. The continually threatened rises in sea level from global warming then sound like the final straw. It is noteworthy, however, that if St. Mark's Square ends up six inches under water, the one foot subsidence from pumping ground water would be responsible for this all on its own.

Barriers are being built that may seal off entrances to the lagoon from the Adriatic during storms and high water. This project has been delayed by corruption and questions about its very design; and it raises the problem of discharging the waste water brought down from inland cities and held in the lagoon. Any durable solution promises to be difficult, expensive, and perilous to the traditional character of the City. Since there are natural changes in sea level, which may even be the ones we are witnessing (minus anthropogenic sin and guilt), the situation of Venice may never have been permamently viable.

Naples, Amalfi, & Gaeta

Genoa & Pisa

Patriarchs of Aquileia, Grado, and Venice

Rome and Romania Index

Σῶσον, Κύριε, τὸν λαόν σου
      καὶ εὐλόγησον τὴν κληρονομίαν σου,
νίκας τοῖς βασιλεῦσι
      κατὰ βαρβάρων δωρούμενος,
καὶ τὸ σὸν φυλάττων
      διὰ τοῦ σταυροῦ σου πολίτευμα.
O Lord, save Your people,
      and bless Your inheritance!
Give victories to the Emperors
      against the barbarians,
and preserve by Your cross
      Your commonwealth.

The Troparion (Τροπάριον) of the Holy Cross, Greek text, A. Pertusi, 'Una Acoluthia militare inedita del X secolo,' Aevum 22 (1948) 145-168, here 157; translation modified, after Anthony Kaldellis, "a military service of the tenth century prayed..." The New Roman Empire, Oxford, 2024, p.422; σῶσον, aorist active 2nd person imperative of σώζω (or σῴζω), "to save, keep," from σῶς, "safe"; δωρούμενος, present nominative masculine singular middle/passive participle of δωρέω, "to give," as "deponent" verb, used in middle/passive voice, δωροῦμαι, "to present a thing to one"; νίκας, accusative plural of νίκη, "victory."

B. REVIVAL AND ASCENDENCY, 802-1059, 257 years

400 years after the opportunity might have originally presented itself, a German finally claimed the title of Roman Emperor. This was the Frank Charlemagne, in a move legitimized by the Pope and by the reign of a woman, Irene, in Constantinople. For a while, Francia looked larger and much more powerful than Romania, but institutionally it was nowhere as sound or durable. The Empire of Charlemagne fragmented among his heirs and lapsed into feudalism, a system for government without cash or literacy. Meanwhile, Romania, with institutional continuity, commercial culture, and education, began to recover its strength, despite some severe blows continuing to fall.


Nicephorus I
killed in battle of Pliska by Bulgar Khan Krum, 811

811, d.812
paralyzed from wound, battle of Pliska, deposed, to monastery, 811

Michael I Rhangabé
jure uxoris
abdicated after
defeat by Krum, Battle of Versinikia, attack on Constantinople, 813
Leo V

the Armenian
Iconoclasm restored, 815; first Varangian (Viking) raids in Anatolia, 818
The reigns of Irene and Nicephorus I begin what Warren Treadgold calls The Byzantine Revival, 780-842 [Stanford U. Press, 1988]. Despite the loss of most of Europe and continuing Arab raids into Anatolia, the population and the economy of the empire were actually growing, and Nicephorus was able to start transplanting colonies of people from the east back into Greece. This soon led to the recovery of most of the Greek peninsula.

It is hard to know how much this means Modern Greeks are descendants, not just of Greeks, but of Phrygians, Galatians, Isaurians, and other ancient (and extinct) inhabitants of Anatolia, as well as Slavs who had migrated into Greece and become assimilated. There is also the complication that colonists from Greece and the Balkans had previously been moved to Anatolia, to compensate for losses from Arab raiding. So people, of various sorts, who had begun in Europe, and then moved to Asia, grew into populations that then were transplanted back into Europe. Very confusing; and not something that leaves clear ethnic footprints. Perhaps DNA testing can sort it out.

Unfortunately for Nicephorus, and his evocative "Bearer of Victory" name, the "revival" was not without its setbacks. Nicephorus ended up killed in battle against the Bulgars, becoming one of the small number of Roman Emperors dying in battle against a foreign enemy. After considerable success against the Bulgars, Nicephorus fell to a morning surprise attack, with the army sleeping, apparentlfy without scouting or security in the area. The defeat was catastrophic. His skull was made into a drinking cup up by the Bulgar Khan Krum. His son Stauracius, proclaimed Emperor after the battle, turned out to be paralyzed from a spinal wound. His attempt to vest the throne in his wife Theophano (reportedly an Athenian relative of Irene), was foiled by his sister Procopia and her husband Michael Rhangabé.

Michael then was inactive and indecisive, was defeated by Krum in turn, and abdicated to Leo the Armenian, an in-law of the subsequent Amorian dynasty. Leo castrated Michael's three sons, one of whom, born Nicetas, would become the Patriarch of Constantinople, as Ignatius, perhaps the only eunuch Patriarich, fated to clash with the great Patriarch Photius. Krum obtained siege supplies from Thracian cities that fell to him, but he died before he could mount a serious threat to Constantinople. It would be some time before the Bulgars could be seriously defeated, much less subdued. Until then, it would be impossible to restore the Danube border.

Christian Names

Noteworthy here is the first occurrence of a Biblical name, Μιχαήλ, Michael. After a couple centuries of Christian rulers, at this point there still seems to be a dearth of Christian names. Most of what we see are based on pagan Roman and Greek antecedents, with one important Emperor still named after the goddess Hera. And the very Christian name of Anastasius, Ἀναστάσιος, comes, not from a name, but from the word for the Resurrection, ἀνάστασις, anástasis. Although we continue to get names in Greek, like Anastasius, that are indirectly or ambiguously Christian (Θεοφίλος, Theophilus, "Beloved of God," is coming up), we begin getting those that are more overtly Biblical, like Michael, which now will also be the name of the first Emperor of the next Dynasty and will eventually account for eight Imperial names.



Michael II
the Stammerer the Amorian
jure uxoris
Revolt of Thomas the Slav, attack on Constantiople, 821-822/3; Crete lost, 823; Sicily invaded by Aghlabids, 827

Theophilus I
Palermo lost, 831; Caliph Muʾtaṣim invades Anatolia, defeats Romans at Dazimon, sacks Ancyra & Amoricum, 838; Varangians arrive at Constantinople, 839

Regent, 842-856

Michael III
the Drunkard
Final repudiation of Iconoclasm, body of Constantine V exhumed & burned, 843; surprise Varangian attack on Constantinople, army and navy away fighting the Arabs, environs pillaged, attackers described as Ῥῶς for the first time, 860; Arab army annihilated, Amir of Melitene killed, at Poson, 863; Aghlabids sack Ostia & (suburbs of?) Rome, including the Vatican, 843, 846; Varangians attack Constantinople, 865
(Theophilus II)867
In this period, aptly called the "Second Dark Age," the Arabs took to the sea -- which they had done before, but not previously in a sustained and systematic way. Crete was lost for over a century, and fighting began on
Sicily that would last for more than 50 years and result in the permanent loss of the island to Romania -- meaning that an ethnic Greek presence, dating from the 8th century BC, would now fade away. With their hands full dealing with Arab raids on land, the Romans might feel completely surrounded.

Given the simultaneous advent of the Vikings, both Franks and Romans were vulnerable in North and South. However, although the Vikings coming down through Russia, the Varangians, constituted a threat, they were unable to inflict the kind of damage on Romania that they did in the West. Instead, they faced a counter-threat, an actual Navy, that not only bloodied and contained the Varangians but disputed the seas in the West with the Arabs.

The Franks, with no cash economy to pay for any standing military, were not so lucky, and poor Burgundy had both Arab raiders coming up rivers from the South and Vikings coming down rivers from the North. However, the founding of the Viking state in Normandy would pose an indirect threat to Romania, as Norman mercenaries, years later, would destablize and alienate Roman lands in the South of Italy and then invade the Balkans. When then later showed up on Crusade, it is not exactly like they were old friends.

To Arabs and Vikings was added third force of raiders, the Magyars, a steppe people occupying the Hungarian plain, riding in on horseback. This did not miss Romania entirely; but a few Magyar raids were successfully bought off, an alternative not available to the cash poor states of the West. There, the Magyars plagued much of the Core of Francia for more than half a century. While Magyar parties swept through poor Burgundy again, most of their attention was visited on Germany and the North of Italy.

This had an effect that would impact Romania. Rising to the challenge, new German Kings fought back against the Magyars, culminating in the victory of Otto I at Lechfeld in 955. Flushed with victory, Otto descended into Italy to claim the Italian and the Imperial Crowns of Charlemagne, whose pretentions had meanwhile lapsed. Rescuing and then marrying Queen Adelaide of Italy, and deposing Berengar II (Italy, 950-961), Otto was then crowned Emperor by Pope John XII (955-963, 963-964) -- beginning a long love/hate relationshp between Popes and German Emperors.

To top it off, in 968 and 971 Otto sent Liutprand of Cremona, previously an envoy of the detested Berengar (in 949), to Constantinople to solicit marriages to some princess of Romania. The first time, this was a disaster. The second time it was successful, but the childessness and Quixotic Italian adventures of Otto's grandson, Otto III, cut short Otto's dynastic line. The "Roman" pretentions of the Germans, however, continued, causing persistent friction with the Ῥωμαῖοι.

Under Theophilus I, there were interesting exchanges with the Caliph ʾal-Maʾmūn (813-833). These involved Leo the Mathematician (c.790->869), Λέων ὁ Μαθηματικός, whose services in mathematics and philosophy were sought by the Caliph. ʾAl-Maʾmūn was initiating the translation and scholarship that jump-started philosophy in ʾIslām. Leo resisted offers to move to Baghdad. Otherwise, Leo is also reported to have created the automata later seen and reported by Liutprand of Cremona at Constantinople in 949.

Now we also find the last of Iconoclasm laid to rest, though one will note even today that the Orthodox Churches prefer Icons rather than sculpture in the round for sacred images. The resolution of this conflict removed a point of friction between the Western and the Eastern Churches. It did reveal, however, how easily such conflict could arise. The later Schism (1054) of the Churches would be over apparently much more trivial issues -- the real issue, of course, was simply authority, and inflated Papal claims thereto.

When Theophilus died young, leaving only a young son, the Empress Theodora, as Regent, moved to end Iconoclasm. At a Council in 843, on the first Sunday in Lent, the Iconoclast Patriarch John the Grammarian was deposed and the Iconophile Methodius installed as Patriarch. The Icons were restored.

Orthodox Churches still commemorate the restoration of the icons on the first Sunday of Lent, which is called the "Sunday of Orthodoxy." Since Orthodox Churches use the Julian Calendar, this day can be more than a month after the first Sunday of Lent on the Gregorian calendar. Unfortunately, a fair amount of art had been destroyed in Constantinople, with not much of it restored. Much of what we see now is later work. The mosaics in Ravenna, including a young, beardless Christ over the altar of St. Vitale, provide clues what more there may have been in the Capital.

The military successes of Iconoclast Emperors, which helped vindicate their cause, came to a dramatic end in 838, perhaps helping to justify the Restoration of the Icons. In 838 the Caliph al-Muʾtaṣim (833-842) raided Anatolia, as the Arabs had been doing about annually for a long time, but this time in such force as to defeat the Romans in battle at Dazimon, very nearly capturing Theophilus, and then to sack the cities of Ancyra (Angora, now Ankara) and Amoricum (now Konya), enslaving the populations. Since Amoricum was the home of the family of Theophilus, this was particularly humilating.

A few years after Dazimon, the subsequent Caliph, al-Wāthiq (842-847), began to execute prisoners from the cities of 838 who refused to convert to ʾIslām. Since the Romans had their own Arab prisoners, an exchange was suggested, and accepted. In 845 embassies between the Caliph and the new Emperor Michael III, or his Regent mother, Theodora, were exchanged to negotiate the prisoner exchange.

The Arab historian aṭ-Ṭabarī, in his Annales (edition in Leiden, 1883-1884), relates details of the embassies, and we see him use an Arabic title for the Roman Emperor -- among other titles I have also examined above. The Roman ambassadors are themselves called , rusulu Ṣāḥibi-r-Rūm (رُسُلُ صَاحِبِ اؐلرُّوم), the "messengers of the Emperor of the Romans," one of whom seems to have been the future Patriarch Photius. See the discussion of the expression for "Romans." So here the word for "Emperor" is (irregular or "broken" plural , ṣaḥābah), which is familiar, as "Sahib," in countless movies about India and Africa. It is an important word in Arabic. Ṣāḥib can mean "owner, possessor, master, lord," etc., as it does here, or it can mean "companion, comrade, friend, follower" (comes in Latin). Thus, , aṣ-Ṣaḥābah, are the "Companions" of the Prophet Muḥammad. These are the most important personages in the history of ʾIslām apart from the Prophet himself. Also noteworthy is the term , "messengers," where the singular, , rasūl, is found in the expression , rasūlu-llāh, i.e. Muḥammad as the "Messenger of God," which is used in the Confession of Faith. For the particular sense of "messenger," see the discussion here.

This period soon sees a turn of the tide against the Arabs. Not long after these events just recounted, in 863, another raiding Arab army, led by the Amir of Melitene (Μελιτηνή; Turkish Malatya; Armenian Մալաթիա), was ambushed and annihilated, and the Amir killed, in battle at Poson. This was not the end of Arab raiding, but it did mean that the Romans were now getting the upper hand, and the period of Arab raiding and domination was coming to an end.

The Arrival of the Varangians, 839 AD

The arrival of the Varangians (839) -- Βάραγγοι, singular Βάραγγος, Old Slavonic Варягъ or Варѧгъ -- which meant the Vikings who had come down the rivers of Russia, added a new element to Roman history. Constantinople became to them Miklagarð, or Mikligarð (Mikligarðr with the nominative ending), but often rendered Miklagard, Miklagarth, or Miklegarth -- the "Great City."

Here the element mik- is cognate to mag- in Latin magnus and meg- in Greek μέγας, megas, both "great." Curiously, there is an archaic adjective in English, "mickle," meaning "great" or "large," which is this very same word. A cognate survives in recent English, the humble word "much." The other element, gard (Old Norse garðr), "enclosed," is cognate to English "garden" and "yard" (and the name "Garth") as well as to gorod and grad, "city," in Russian -- as in Tsargrad, Царьградь, the Old Church Slavonic name for Constantinople (the final "soft" sign, Ь, was in Old Church Slavonic but is not used here in modern Russian). We see this element in Midgard, or Miðgarðr, "Middle Earth," the realm of men in Old Norse and in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

The "Great City" (we could say "Mickleyard" with English words -- or "Mickey Garth"?) could not have been more appropriate, since Constantinople was the largest city in Europe until at least the 13th century, as it was the center of the only real cash economy in Europe perhaps until the 11th century. It was probably larger than any city in Scandinavia until modern times. Turkish İstanbul has recently risen again to the first rank.

Relations with the Varangians rocked back and forth between war and trade, mainly depending on what the Norsemen thought they could get away with -- they would be prepared for both, as had been the Phoenicians. The contact in 839 was an embassy, which had encountered sufficient difficulties coming down the rivers of Russia that it requested the good offices of the Emperor in negotiating passage back by way of the Frankish realm of Louis the Pious. Louis already knew about Viking raids and was suspicious that these travelers, although vouched for by Constantinople, were nevertheless of their kind. Assured (falsely) that they were not, the embassy was allowed to pass.

Soon, Varangians would have little fear of traversing Russia and would begin raiding Roman territory and even attacking Constantinople. The first we hear is of a raid on Paphlagonia, on the south coast of the Black Sea. This is so poorly attested and dated that it may have occurred as early as before the embassy of 839 and as late as simultaneously with the raid on Constantinople of 860. That surprise raid of 860 caught the Emperor Michael away with the Army in Anatolia, while the Navy was concurrently fightly the Arabs at sea. Despite the earlier contact, the Patriarch Photius described the raiders as an ἔθνος ἄγνωστον, "unknown people." In turn, however, Photius then says that they are, for the first time, the Ῥῶς -- first Роусь and later Русь, in Cyrillic. This event was then shortly before the founding of the Rus state at Kiev in 862.

As it happened, the Norsemen were rather less successful against the Romans than they were against the Franks, and bouts of attacks were usually followed by treaties -- where such reconciliation was rarely necessary in the West. The difference, of course, was that the Romans had a Navy, an expensive technological establishment, demanding of manpower, impossible in Francia, that was generally ready for attacks -- and with long experience fighting the Arabs. The Vikings had no other experience of actual warships coming out against them, and it must have been disconcerting.

To the Varangians, the Roman Emperor becomes in Old Norse the Stólkonungr, the "Great King," with "great" in this case borrowed from Old Russian (as in Stolnyi Knyaz, стольний князь, the "great prince" of Kiev -- stolnyi does not have this meaning in Modern Russian, and velikii, великий, is used instead), and "king" (konung) familiar from other Germanic languages (e.g. German könig, English "king"). This echoes Megas Basileus in Greek, the translation of the title of the Great Kings of Persia and the origin of the official use of Basileus for "Emperor" in Mediaeval Greek (although it was already used for the Roman Emperor in Greek popular discourse).

The Organization of the Themes and Tagmata, 840 AD

The tactics used to deal with Arab raiding in Anatolia are recounted by the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, especially in the treatise On Skirmishing in War, Περὶ Παραδρομῆς Πολέμου. Unlike some military theorists, Nicephorus, the "Pale Death of the Saracens," actually used the tactics described, to great effect, sweeping Arab armies, and settlements, right out of Anatolia and the Taurus Mountains. One reason for these successes was the improvement and maturity of the new Army.

By the time of the Amorians, the Army has settled into its classic form and is much improved in numbers, organization, and effectiveness. The loss of Sicily and Crete is not encouraging, but the heartland of Anatolia is being defended with increasing success, and the lost territories in the Balkans are now being recovered and resettled.

Bulgaria stands in the way in that direction and will eventually be dealt with. By 878 Sicily will be lost forever (although Rometta holds out until 965). It is possible that it could have been recovered, but now the remoteness of the command, and eventual disloyalty of the Norman mercenaries, will snuff out such a hope. This is the army with which the Macedonians will eventually defeat and conquer Bulgaria, pass through the Cilician Gates, recover Antioch, and invade Syria. Later, when the Thematic forces are neglected, the mobile army, the Tagmata, will prove insufficient, as the Mobile Army alone had earlier in the Fifth Century.

Part of the heritage of the long period of Arab raiding are the remarkable underground cities of Cappadocia. Carved into soft volcanic tuff, some structures, like the city of Malakopḗ (Μαλακοπή; Derinkuyu in Turkish), went down as much as 200 feet deep and could shelter 20,000 people with all their livestock and supplies. Since the chambers were mostly cleaned up later, there is not a lot of material to use to date the structures; and the suspicion is that they originally are older, a lot older, than the Middle Ages.

However, their extensive development was certainly motivated by the need for refuges against Arab raiders and slavers, whose annual attacks extended from the 7th to the 10th centuries -- when they were finally stopped by Nicephorus II Phocas. Doors could be closed with rolling blocks, and ventilation came from high chimneys whose openings were concealed from observation below, as well as being all but inaccessible. The cities are major tourist attractions now, in a geologically bizarre landscape (curiously seen in the bad and forgetable 2011 movie Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, with Nicolas Cage), but one hears less about their use by Christians against Muslims, which is an awkward circumstance for modern Turkish nationalism. Evidence of Christian worship survives in the frescoes of underground churches, sometimes preserved by the sort of layer of grime also found in old Egyptian monasteries.

Frontier Fighters, Christian & Muslim

The sack of Amoricum in 838 and then the destruction of the Arab army at Poson in 863 signify a low and then a high (for the Romans) in the history of the regular Arab raids into Anatolia. Meanwhile, apart from the regular formation of troops, like the Thematic armies, a culture of frontier fighters had developed, on both sides of the Christian/Muslim boundary. Thus, local inhabitants did not just wait around for the clashes of regular forces, cowering, perhaps, in their Cappadocian caves. They would fight themselves.

On the Roman side there were the Akritai, Ἀκρίται (singular Akritēs, Ἀκρίτης, or Akritas, Ἀκρίτας), from ákron, ἄκρον, the "highest or furthest point," i.e. a boundary, "end," or "extremity." Similarly, ákra, ἄκρα, would be a "headland" or even "citadel." The adjective ákros, ἄκρος, is familiar from "acrophobia," a fear of heights.

The romance of the Roman Akritai developed into epic stories, including the tale of Basil Digenes Akrites, Βασίλειος Διγενῆς Ἀκρίτης. "Digenes" signifies the dual birth of the hero, since his father was an Arab who, on a raid, kidnapped his mother, but then married her, converted to Christianity and crossed over to settle in Romania. This kind of thing happened, although the stories in The Thousand and One Nights tend to be, as we might imagine, of the woman sincerely converting to ʾIslām.

On the Arab side, frontier fighters would be , Murābiṭūn (مُرَابِطُون -- singular , Murābiṭ -- مُرَابِط), those fighters at the , ribāṭ (رِبَاط), the frontier or, more specificially, frontier fortress. Curiously, this terminology tended to drift towards North Africa, where the name fixes on the dynasty of the Almoravids, the Spanish pronunciation of ʾal-Murābiṭūn, . Also, the meaning of ribāṭ itself drifted towards "hermitage," something a little unusual in ʾIslām, where there is no formal monasticism -- or even toward meaning "caravansary" or "hospice."

This North African locus, and the changing meanings, may be why later the Turkish fighters in the East became known just as Ghuzāh, (غُزَاة) -- singular Ghāzin, (غَازٍ), or Ghāzī, (غَازِي), without the indefinite nunation. However, Ghāzin literally means someone engaged in a , ghazwah (غَزْوَة), a "raid," which could simply have meant a tribal affair, with no relation to the , Jihād (جِهَاد), or to proper warfare. But then much of the frontier fighting in Anatolia attended the actual Arab raids into the interior, which were proper raids indeed -- destroying, looting, kidnapping -- without permanent occupation or the advancement of the border. So, in many ways, Ghāzī may have been the right word after all.

While we see some romance about all this in the Nights, the grimly serious side was the Kitāb al-Jihād, the "Book of the Jihād," by Abdallah ibn Mubarak (726-797), who was an Islāmic scholar but also a Murābiṭ himself, and thus a Mujāhid, (مُجَاهِدٌ), a fighter in the Jihād, who was killed in the fighting. While the Kitāb is both doctrinal and practical, the closest we get on the Christian side is the Skirmishing military manual of Nicephorus Phocas, as noted above, which addresses the strategy and tactics of dealing with Arab raids, which Nicephorus himself pretty much brought to an end. The continuation of the Jihād of Ibn Mubarak in Anatolia would need to wait for the advent of the Turks.

A somewhat more legendary Murābiṭ was ʿAbdallāh al-Baṭṭāl, عَبْدُ ٱللّٰهُ ٱلْبَطَّال, "Abdallah the Hero," Battal Gazi in Turkish. Al-Baṭṭāl was involved in many of the Ommayad raids and invasions into Asia Minor, and he is at least reported to have begun his career at the Siege of Constantinople in 717–718. After signal sucesses on various raids, al-Baṭṭāl was defeated and killed in killed in battle by the Emperor Leo III in 740. Afterwards, however, al-Baṭṭāl's exploits grew in legendary accounts in Arabic and Turkish, including his marriage to a nun who had hidden him in her convent in Amorium. His legend only grew in folk tales, included even in a book called the Battal-name. This made him fully the Muslim equivalent of Basil Digenes Akrites, with his stories, of course, continuing long after the Roman cause had collapsed and al-Baṭṭāl could be associated with the Turkish conquest of Romania. What was thought to be his tomb even became a destination of pilgrimage.

We are approaching the point in European history where the remaining pagan peoples of Europe will be assimilated to Christian civilization. Bulgaria will lead the way, but it will soon be following by Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Scandinavia. With the latter, it all happens a bit suddenly, in the 10th and 11th centuries, rather like the "flame over" point in a fire, when discrete burns all join and the air fills with flame.

The small holdout of pagan Lithuania, not yet evident on this map, but later holding extensive conquests, will only become Christian in an interesting political deal by the Duke Jagiello, which effected a reversal of alliances, whereby Poland abandoned its Christian ally, the Teutonic Knights, and added its power to its former enemy, Lithuania. The consequences of this in political mythology may have been as great in the 20th century as they were in the 15th.

The Pechenegs (or Patzinaks), a Turkic steppe people, will remain pagans until they are swept from history by the Cumans and Mongols. The latter then disappear or suvive as remnants dominated by Christian powers, after having already converted to ʾIslām. The Mongol Kalmyks survive near the Volga, with the Turkic Chuvash, Tartars, and Bashkirs nearby, as outliers of the large area dominated by Kazakhs and others. Sacha Baron Cohen, playing Borat, supposedly a Kazakh, never mentioned that his people and country are entirely Muslim.

On the east edge of the map is the Khanate of the Khazars, also Turkic, who actually converted to Judaism. They would be Roman allies until disappearing in the 11th century. Shown on the map are the tracks of several raids by the Magyars into Francia. It is striking how far afield they go. A more intimate picture is provided elsewhere for Burgundy.

ZaberganKutrigur Bulgar Huns
Invades Romania, defeated by Belisarius, 558
KubratOld Great Bulgaria, c.632-d.c.650/665
Asparukh, son of KubratQaghan, c.681-701
Battle of Ongal, defeats Romania, 680
helps restore Justinian II, 705; helps Leo III in the Siege of Constantinople by the Arabs, 717-718
after defeat by Romans, Teletz killed, Vinekh deposed, flees to Romans, 763
defeated by Romans, 774
Krum, Крумc.803-814
Kills Emperor Nicephorus in battle, 811; uses his skull as a drinking cup
Boris, Борис I/ Emperor Michael, Михаил IQaghan, 852-870
Emperor/Tsar, 870-889, d.907
Council VIII, Constantinople IV, 869-870; conversion of Bulgaria announced
Simeon, Симеон, the Great, Велики893-927
War with Romans, 913-927; attack on Constantinople, 913; defeats Romans at Archelous and Katasyrtai, 917; attacks Constantinople, 921, 923; defeats Romans at Pegae, 921, & at Constantinople, 922
Peter I927-969
Treaty with Romans, 927
Boris II969-972, d.986
Bulgaria conquered by John I Tzimisces, 971
Macedonian Bulgaria; state organized in western Bulgaria by the Cometopuli, "Sons of the Count"
Tsar Romanusfigurehead, 986-997; captured, 991
Samuel, Самоиль997-1014
Army annihilated by
Basil II, 1014
Gabriel Radomir1014-1015
John Vladislav1015-1018
Presian II1018,
Bulgaria annexed by
Basil II, 1018
Although today the Bulgarians are thought of as simply a Slavic people, like the Russians or Serbs, they were originally a nomadic
Turkic steppe people, more like the Huns or Mongols. The first title of their leaders here, qaghan, is recognizably more Mongolian than the form more familiar from Turkish, khān.

The Slavs, who had breached the Danube with the Avars, but who had little in the way of indigenous political organization, then came under the control of the Bulgars, the next nomadic group to pop off the end of the steppe. A related people, the Khazars, who remained on the Lower Volga, became long term Roman allies against the Bulgars. Other related peoples, the Patzinaks and Cumans, followed the Bulgars off the steppe and into the Balkans, though not permanently south of the Danube.

After the Cumans, the Mongols were the last steppe people to come into Europe. Through the Middle East, of course, the Turks (and the Mongols) came off the steppe and ultimately, permanently, into Azerbaijan, Anatolia, and Thrace.

Fans of Robert E. Howard's (1906-1936) classic pulp fiction character Conan the Barbarian, will find the name of the Bulgar Qaghan Krum (Крум in Cyrllic, which didn't exist yet in his time) somewhat familiar -- it is rather like Conan's own personal god, "Crom." Krum, indeed, seems very Conan-like.

Not only was the Emperor Nicephorus killed in battle, but Krum took his skull and turned it into a drinking cup. This sounds like "barbarism" indeed -- though Lord Kitchener (1850-1916) may have had something similar in mind when he removed the body of the Sudanese Mahdi from his tomb, after taking Khartoum in 1898.

More recently, readers of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire [J.K. Rowling, Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, Inc., 2000] will remember that the champion Bulgarian Quidditch player was none other than Viktor Krum.

What happened to the Bulgars was assimilation. The Patzinaks pushed them off the steppe, they began to speak the language of their Slavic subjects, and they began to aspire to the civilization, if not the throne, of Constantinople. The conversion of the Bulgars, indeed, was a complicated political act, with sophisticated negotiations that played the Popes off the Emperors. Greek influence ended up predominating, but the Bulgars continued jealous of their autonomy -- the precedent of an autocephalous Church set the pattern for other Orthodox Churches, as in Russia, created under Roman auspices. The Qaghan Boris took the Christian name Michael (though both names would be used in the future), but retained a status comparable to the Roman Emperor.

Old Church Slavonic

The newly developed Cyrillic alphabet, based on the "glagolitic" alphabet invented for Moravia by Sts. Cyril (Constantine, 827-869) and Methodius (826-885), was used for the Slavic language of the new Bulgarian national Church. This language, Old Church Slavonic or Old Bulgarian, is the oldest attested Slavic language and retains features apparently ancestral of most modern Slavic languages -- although different texts also display influence (or emergent features) from the local languages, Czech, Bulgarian, and Serbian, in the areas where it was used. At right is the Cyrillic alphabet of Old Church Slavonic.

I have used some letters in the modern form rather than with the more traditional appearance, which is more obviously Greek. Various modern Cyrillic alphabets, which can be examined under the treatment of the Slavic languages, often employ different selections of letters from the full original alphabet -- although there is the possibility that some letters were later contributed, again, by local languages, like Serbian (cf. S.C. Gardiner, Old Church Slavonic, Cambridge, 1984, 2008, pp. 13-14). It will be noted that this alphabet contains more dedicated palatalizing vowels than the modern languages that continue to use this device.

An interesting case is the way "u" is written. Old Church Slavonic writes the Greek digraph оу. We also see the ligature Ю for "iu," which affixes an "i" and drops the "y." This is the only such ligature still used in modern Cyrillic alphabets, despite the presence of no less than five of them in Old Church Cyrillic -- the available ligature () is replaced by я in Russian, Bulgarian, etc., although I imagine that the latter may be a modification of the former. Since the Greek digraph оу is redundant, modern Cyrillic alphabets simply write "u" with у. Thus, Rus, "Russia," originally written Роусь (with the "soft" sign, although perhaps a reduced vowel in Old Slavonic, as follows), is now Русь. This latter is commonly written Rus' by various historians, with an apostrophe for the soft sign, despite the fact that no one unfamiliar with Russian, or Slavic languages, will have a clue what it means -- while useful diacritics are left out for other languages, including Greek.

The signs ь and ъ, which apparently were vowels in Old Church Slavonic, of uncertain quality (as the vocalization of Old Church Slavonic is disputed), have now either become markers of "solf" and "hard" consonsants, as in Russian, or have been dropped, as in Serbian. These are divergent strategies that both go back to Old Church Slavonic. We also get nasalized vowels in Old Church Slavonic, ѧ () and ѫ õ, marked with tildes here (the IPA diacritic), but elsewhere with a subscript hook, as in Polish (with ą and ę), where such nasals survive.

We see both ь and ъ in the adjective forming suffix -ьскъ, which is cognate to -ский in Russian, -ski in Polish, and, much more distantly, -isch in German and -ish in English. From the chart, -ьскъ can be transcribed /-ǝskʌ/. At Wikipedia this is transcribed /-ĭskŭ/. As I said, there are uncertainties and variations with ь and ъ. Russian -ский transcribes as /-skiy/. In general, in transcribed names and words we see /-ski/ for Polish and /-sky/ for Russian.

The first time I ever heard of Old Church Slavonic was in high school, in 1966. My World Literature teacher, Mr. Cousens, said that the University of California at Berkeley was so enlightened, that if even one student wanted to take Old Church Slavonic, it would be offered. I have no idea if that was ever true; but, sad to say, I have never encountered such a policy at any university or college of my experience. Any class must "make," with a minimum number of students, or it will be cancelled. I am even aware that, for a while, Princeton University ceased offering Sanskrit, of all things, because there weren't enough students for it. And, my own Philosophy of Science class, which I very much enjoyed teaching, failed to make after I returned from a sabbatical in the Fall of 2000. Discouraged by my Department, which didn't like to see classes cancelled, I never tried offering it again.

Macedonian Bulgaria

Although remaining a formidable foe, the Bulgars were probably softened by their assimilation and civilization. As the Empire itself grew in strength, the day came when Bulgaria was defeated and subjugated. The first step merely left it leaderless, as John Tzimisces took Emperor Boris II off to Constantinople. A new state was organized in the west, however, by the sons of the Bulgar governor Count Nicholas. These "Sons of the Count," Cometopuli, eventually got an Emperor back after Boris and his brother Romanus escaped captivity. Boris was accidentally killed, so Romanus became the (largely figurehead) ruler. After Romanus died, the Cometopulus Samuel succeeded him.

The Emperor Basil II, after humiliating defeat by the Bulgars in his youth, then smashed and annexed this state, with a ferocity that that might have made Krum (or Conan) proud. Samuel is supposed to have dropped dead when he saw that Basil had blinded all the survivors of the Bulgarian army (leaving every tenth man with one eye to lead the rest) -- but the later references to this are now often doubted -- although it earned Basil his famous epithet. Bulgaria would not reemerge until the (Vlach) Asen brothers led it to independence in 1186. Meanwhile, we see descendants of the Cometopuli, which were numerous (more than we see here), intermarrying with the Romans. After the Turkish conquest, modern Bulgaria did not emerge until 1878. Bulgarian speaking Macedonians have remained a political problem for decades.

Lists of Bulgarian rulers can be found in various Byzantine histories, but the genealogy here only comes from the Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, Volume II, Part 2, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser II Nord-, Ost- und Südeuropa [Andreas Thiele, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Part 2, Second Edition, 1997, pp.156-159].

Νῦν οὖν ἄκουσόν μου, υἱέ, καὶ τήνδε μεμαθηκὼς τὴν διδαχὴν ἔσῃ σοφὸς παρὰ φρονίμοις, καὶ φρόνιμος παρὰ σοφοῖς λογίσθησῃ· εὐλογήσουσί σε οἱ λαοί, καὶ μακαριοῦσί σε πλήθη ἐθνῶν.

Now therefore hearken unto me, my son, and being adept in this my teaching thou shalt be wise among the prudent, and be accounted prudent among the wise; the peoples shall praise thee, and the multitudes of the nations shall call thee blessed.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperio, greek text edited by Gy. Moravscik, English translation by R.J.H. Jenkins, Dumbarton Oaks, Center for Byzantine Studies, Trustees for Harvard University, 1966, 1967, 2008, pp.45-46; translation modified, color added.


Basil I the Macedonian
Ecumenical Council VIII, Constantinople IV, 869-870 -- reconciles Eastern and Western Churches but is later repudiated by East; conversion of Bulgaria announced; Syracuse falls to Aghlabids, 878; fleet sent to Naples to patrol against Arabs, 879; Venice effectively independent, 886; Campaign of Nicephorus Phocas the Elder in Italy, 883-886

Leo VI the Wise
Invasion of Calabria by Aghlabid Amīr ʿAbdullāh II, 902-903; Thessalonica sacked by renegade Leo of Tripoli, population enslaved, 904; in retaliation, Tarsus sacked by the Logothete Himerius, 905; Russians attack Constantinople, 907; treaty with Oleg of Kiev, provision of mercenaries, 911


Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus
Bulgarian War, 913-927; Bulgarian attack on Constantinople, 913; Greek Anthology edition of Constantine Cephalas, c.930-950; Treaty with Bulgarians, 945; Embassy of Liutprand of Cremona from Berengar II of Italy, 949
Ζωή ἡ Καρβωνοψίνα
Zoë Carbonopsina
Regent, 914-919,
Fleet, allied with the Papacy, Benevento, Salerno, Capua, and Spoleto, destroys Arab base on Garigliano River, 915; defeats by Bulgarians at Archelous and Katasyrtai, 917

Romanus I Lecapenus
Bulgarian attacks on Constantinople, 921, 923; defeats at Pegae by Bulgarians, 921, & at Constantinople, 922; defeat at Basintello by Lombards, 929; Fleet of Arab pirates destroyed off Provence, 941; Russians & Pechenegs attack Constantinople, 941, 944; Magyar raids, bought off, prisoners ransomed, 934, 943, but some Magyars raid Greece, 943; Sayfu-d-Dawla trapped by Leo Phocas, army destroyed, 950, defeats Bardas Phocas, captured his son Constatnine, 953, again, 954

Stephen &
Romanus II959-963
Magyar raid ambushed and destroyed, Sayfu-d-Dawla trapped again by Leo Phocas, army destroyed, 960; Crete recovered, 961; foundation of Great Laura Monastery on Mt. Athos, 963

Nicephorus II Phocas
; pallida Saracenorum mors;
"The Pale Death of the Saracens" [
jure uxoris
Cyprus recovered, 964; Failed invasion of Sicily, Battle of the Straits, at Messina, defeat by Fatimids, Rometta in Sicily falls to Kalbī Amīrs, Cilicia & Tarsus recovered, 965; embassy with Liutprand of Cremona from Emperor Otto I, 968; Antioch recovered from Ḥamdānids, 969

John I Tzimisces
jure uxoris
Russian Prince Sviatoslav defeated, Bulgaria conquered, 971; Charter for Mt. Áthōs, 972
Basil II Bulgaroctonus

963- 1025
Otto II defeated by Kalbī Amīr of Sicily at Stilo, 982; rebellion of Bardas Phocas, 987-988; Varangian Guard, 988; Conversion of St. Vladimir, 989; Bulgarian Army annihilated, 1014; Macedonian Bulgaria annexed, 1018
Constantine VIII976- 1028
Last Emperor buried in the Herôon, τὸ Ἡρῷον, the mausoleum of Constantine I

Zoë Porphyrogenita
1028- 1050
Romanus III

jure uxoris
1028- 1034
Michael IV

the Paphlagonian
jure uxoris
1034- 1041
beginning of debasement of the solidus; Harald Hardråde serves in Varangian Guard, 1034-1044; Arab pirates sack Myra, 1034/35, visited by John, brother of Michael IV, who rebuilds walls and patronizes St. Nicholas; intervention of Constantine Ops in Sicily, 1037; campaign of George Maniaces in Sicily, Messina & Syracuse reconquered, 1038-1040; defection of Norman mercenaries, Maniaces arrested, rebellion in Italy, 1040; Sicily abandoned, 1042
Michael V

1041- 1042
Normans win Battles of Venosa/Olviento & Montepeloso, in Apulia, 1041; Maniaces reinstated, Michael attempts coup against Zoë, fails, blinded, 1042

Theodora Porphyrogenita
1042- 1056
Constantine IX

jure uxoris
1042- 1055
Pays for rebuilding the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 1040's; revolt & death of George Maniaces, Russians attack Constantinople, 1043; occupation of Armenia, 1045; revolt of Leo Tornicius, attack on Constantinople, 1047; Charter for Mt. Áthōs, Schism between Eastern and Western Churches, 1054; solidus debased to 3/4 gold

Michael VI Bringas
1056- 1057

Isaac I Comnenus
1057- 1059
The greatest dynasty of Middle Romania begins with the Empire still losing ground. Raids by the Arabs, Vikings, and now Magyars are giving all of Europe a very bad time -- what has been called the "Second Dark Age." Poor Burgundy was raided by all three, from three different directions. Only the 10th Century would see a gradual recovery, as Slavs, Norsemen, and Magyars all became settled and Christianized, though the Normans remained vigorous and aggressive in both North and South, i.e. conquering England and expelling Muslims and Romania from Italy.

Although traditionally called the "Macedonian" dynasty, Basil I may have been Armenian, like several of the other Emperors-by-marriage -- although this is from a questionable tradition of tracing many figures of Romania to Armenian backgrounds, when there is actually little evidence for most of it. Be that as it may, the dynasty, ironically, actually could descend from Michael III rather than from Basil, who had been induced to marry Michael's mistress. Even though the marriage continued after Basil had overthrown Michael, the first child, heir, and successor, Leo, may still have been Michael's. Given Leo's own adventures in marriage, there is much room here for Soap Opera treatments of the history of the dynasty.

Much of the good work of the Dynasty was accomplished by in-laws during the minority of the legitimate heirs, though the culmination came when one heir, Basil II, came of age and completed the conquests himself. Just once, it looked like Romanus I Lecapenus would try and replace the legitimate dynasty, but his sons followed him only briefly before being deposed.

One of the most successful Emperor-Regent-in-laws, Nicephorus II Phocas (to be distinguished from his grandfather, Nicephorus Phocas the Elder, who died before 900), unintentionally played an important part in the history of Armenia. After reconquering Cilicia and Tarsus, in the Taurus and Anti-Taurus Mountains, and expelling the local Muslims in 965, Nicephorus encouraged Christians from Syria and Armenia to settle the area. Subsequently, when the Turks poured into Anatolia after the epic defeat at Manzikert in 1071, the Christians of the Taurus were relatively safe in the mountains, and the Turkish flood washed around them. This led to the creation of the durable Kingdom of Lesser Armenia (1080-1375). The Armenians of Lesser Armenia were then probably the Christians of the Middle East with the best relations with the Crusaders, including intermarriage.

It is now not often noted, but Lesser Armenia became such a center of Armenian life at the time that the Armenian Patriarchate relocated there from Armenia. From 1058 to 1441, this was the only Armenian Patriarchate. Even the reestablishment of Patriarchs in Armenia did not interrupt the line of succession in Cilicia, which henceforth became known as the Great House of Cilicia. This succession continues to the present and even remained in the Taurus, long after the extinction of the Armenian Kingdom, until 1930, when the Patriarchs joined Armenian refugees in Lebanon, where they remain.

In the years of the isolation of Soviet Armenia, the center of international Armenian life was this Patriarchate in Lebanon. This is now obscured by the independence of Armenia in 1991 and the emigration of many Armenians from the former Soviet Union into the West. Their culture, influenced by the corruption of Soviet life, and even their language (Eastern rather than Western Armenian), is distinct from that of the Lebanese Armenians who used to dominate, for instance, Armenian immigration to the United States.

While Phocas was successful at defeating the Arabs and recoverings lands in Anatolia and elsewhere, he nevertheless experienced a heartbreaking failure in Sicily. While we usually reckon that Sicily was lost when Syracuse fell in 878, completing a process that began with the Aghlabid invasion in 827, there continued to be pockets of resistance. The focus of this was the symbolically named town of Rometta, Ῥομέττα, "Little Rome," Sicilian "Ramietta."

Envigorated by the new Fatimid dynasty, the port city of Taorima was taken in 962 (free after an intitial conquest in 902), with the whole population sold into slavery. Rometta, itself up in the mountains behind Messina, was then invested in 963, with forces led by the subordinate Kalbī Amīrs. Messages pleading for help were sent East, and Phocas answered with an army, reportedly of 40,000, commanded by Nicetas Abalantes, Νικήτας Ἀβαλάντης, and Phocas's nephew, Manuel Phocas.

The Roman force landed in 964 and experienced some initial successes, including the recovery of Messina. However, the attempt to relieve the siege of Rometta was decisively defeated in 965, and the remaining army was then defeated again in the "Battle of the Straits" in 965. Manuel Phocas was killed and Nicetas himself was captured and held as hostage by the Caliph ʾal-Muʿizz, until ransomed in a treaty in 967. Rometta had, of course, meanwhile fallen, in 965, ending the long Roman presence in Sicily. Later attempts to regain Sicily, beginning in 1037, which even reached Syracuse, were undone by mutinies among Lombard and mercenary troops, as we will see.

The Arabs, of course, were not content with Sicily. Raids and invasions of Italy would continue for some time. In 982 the forces of the Kalbī Amīr ʾAbū l-Qāsim, met an army of the German Emperor Otto II. This began at the town of Stilo, Στύλος, in Calabria, and moved down to Crotone, Κρότων, the very town of which Pythagroas was briefly the Tyrant. The Germans were intitially successful and actually killed the Amīr, but the Arabs counterattacked and won a decisive victory, killing many Germans and forcing Otto to swim to a friendly ship off the coast. He had to flee north in panic.

While the death of the Amīr limited the consequences of the battle in terms of Muslim fortunes, the outcome was a disaster for the Emperor. Word of his defeat and losses inspired a revolt, the Slawenaufstand, of recently conquered Slavs in Germany. The deaths of important nobles in the battle meant a shuffling of authority in Germany.

At the same time, we might wonder what Otto was doing in that part of Italy in the first place. He had married the Princess Theophanu, Θεοφανώ, from Constantinople, but then he was trying to occupy the territories of Romania in Calabria and elsewhere. In the end, this was not a good idea. Germans did not do well in the summer heat and diseases of Italy. Otto himself soon died, only 28 years old. His infant son, Otto III, grew up and continued to campaign in Italy, dying at only 21 years old, having never even married -- even while the Princess Zoë, later Empress (1028-1050), was actually landing in Italy to marry him.

Stilo retains a "Byzantine" sytle church; and my personal connection to it is that my Persian professor at UCLA, Donald Stilo (recently retired from the Max Planck Institute), derived his name from the place. Although Stilo's professional interest in Linguistics focused on Persian, the Italian cooking of his New Jersey upbringing influened my own cooking because of the occasions he invited my Persian class to his home for dinner. Thanks to him, I became aware of varieties of Italian pasta like Fusilli, as at right.

Phocas was assassinated in a plot that included his own (Armenian?) nephew, John Tzimisces. When the assassins stole into the Emperor's bed chamber, they found, to their alarm, that his bed was empty. Looking around, they discovered that Phocas, a soldier to the last, was sleeping on the floor. What an extraordinary picture.

What "Roman Emperor" sleeps on the floor? Can we imagine this with Caligula or Nero? Certainly not. Others, however, like Marcus Aurelius or Diocletian, we do see in their military camps. With those Emperors, we do not imagine their quarters to have been very luxurious. Although Nicephorus had become unpopular, it was remembered for centuries, before the abandonment of the Great Palace, which room was the scene of the assassination -- it was a sad fate for someone who had done Romania so much good. At least Tzimisces proved to be a worthy successor. The two of them, with Basil II, were the greatest Imperial generals of the Middle Ages.

The Pale Death of the Saracens

The Bibliotheca of the Patriarch Photius

In the early days of the dynasty we get a benchmark on the survival of Classical and later Greek literature. The Βιβλιοθήκη, Bibliotheca of the Patriarch of Constantinople St. Photius I, Φώτιος (858-867, 877-886), contains 280 reviews. Even Edward Gibbon refers to this as "a living monument of erudition and criticism" [The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Modern Library, p.297].

It is not a catalogue of existing literature, or of a particular library, not even that of Photius, but a treatment of works familiar to Photius, apart from the mainstream of general education, that Photius is recommending to his brother Tarasius. Thus, popular authors like Homer, Plato, Aristotle, or the Greek playwrights (except for some lost plays of Aeschylus!) are missing from the list. Photius' treatment ranges from brief descriptions and evaluations to long summaries and discussions. Of the 386 works mentioned by Photius, 239 are theological. Nevertheless, only 43% of the text actually focuses on them. The majority of the text (in a book whose modern edition in Greek is 1600 pages long) is thus secular.

For example, in addressing A History of Events After Alexander (in ten books) by the Roman historian Arrian of Nicomedia (an early member of the Second Sophistic), we get a long summary of those very events, which are often obscure enough that every description helps. Although much of Arrian survives, and his Anabasis Alexandri is the best account of the campaigns of Alexander, all we have of A History of Events After Alexander is Photius' summary. We also have Arrian to thank for transcribing in the Encheiridion or "Handbook," the teachings of the Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus, whose student he was.

Our benchmark is that about half of the works mentioned by Photius, like the Events, are now lost. It is distressing to think of what survived, despite the Dark Ages, and then what later disasters may have cost us -- when the City was sacked by the Fourth Crusade and then the Ottomans (where we hear of bonfires of books, although this may be a slander). It is hard to imagine an undisturbed Constantinople being subsequently so careless with its literary heritage. At no other Court of the age could visitors have found the nobility quoting Homer, as we see below. [cf. Photius, The Bibliotheca, A selection translated with notes by N.G. Wilson, Duckworth, London, 1994.]

Photius, whose Bibliotheca was only part of his literary output, was a major political figure and himself was responsible for the mission of Sts. Cyril (Constantine, 827-869) and Methodius (826-885) to convert the Slavs.

The climax of Mediaeval Romania came with the Emperor Basil II Bulgaroctonus, Βουλγαροκτόνος, "Bulgar Slayer" (Bulgarentöter in German). He also happened to be ruling at the turn of the first Millennium, which is of some interest as we have now seen the year 2000. Christendom had been having a bad time for several centuries, but things were looking up in 1000.

After a long minority with in-laws ruling as co-regents, Basil defeated and captured an entire Bulgarian army in 1014. He blinded every prisoner, except for one eye left to every tenth man, so they could lead their fellows home. The Tsar Samuel is supposed to have dropped dead when he beheld the mutilated men returning. There is no contemporary record of this mass blinding, and its historicity is now often questioned. Whether anything quite like this happened or not, however, Bulgaria only lasted four more years before being annexed.

The Varangian Guard

Meanwhile, the Varangians (Βάραγγοι, singular Βάραγγος) had created a powerful state at Kiev; and, as the "Rus," Русь, their name came to be attached to it -- giving us Ῥωσία in Greek, Russia in Latin, Россия in Russian. The alternation of war and trade that had characterized Roman relations with the Varangians led to a dramatic clash in 941.

The Romans were not warned and were not ready for such an attack by the Russians -- which is a little surprising given earlier attacks, as recently as 907 -- under their memorably named Prince Igor. The Roman commander, the protovestiarius (πρωτοβεστιάριος) Theophanes, had a scratch force of only 15 ships, against perhaps a thousand (?!) or more manned by the Russians. But the Russians were not used to Roman fleets -- again a little surprising.

In fact the Vikings didn't need to face a professional Navy anywhere else in Europe, and they had never fought naval battles, except among themselves. And then the use of Greek fire caught them by surprise. If they came down the Bosporus under any sail, they must have made beautiful targets. Again, we might not expect the Russians to be surprised by Greek Fire. But the attack of 907 is only recounted in Russian sources, and no naval battle is mentioned. Prince Oleg is said to have landed troops which he led, ineffectively, against the Walls of the City. The Roman Navy may have been away, as in 860 -- or some confusion of dates may have been involved, although the attack otherwise seems to have led to a treaty in 911. Thus, the Russians may not have previously encountered a naval response prepared with Greek Fire.

After the devastating Roman defense, even with a small force, in 941, the Russians fled to Bithynia, where they landed and began to loot the countryside. Thrown back by Bardas Phocas (d.969), they returned to their fleet, which was then annihilated by Theophanes and his augmented forces, with few surviving the burning ships and the "fire" burning on the water. This just wasn't supposed to happen to Vikings [cf. Byzantium, the Apogee, John Julius Norwich, Alfred A. Knopf, 1992, pp.151-152].

When Prince Sviatoslav then tried an invasion overland into Bulgaria, this led to sharp defeats by John Tzimisces (971). But this then all took a greater turn toward friendship in Basil's day with the conversion of St. Vladimir to Christianity (989). Part of this process involved the marriage of Basil's sister Anna to Vladimir, and the provision by Russia of mercenaries for what now became the Emperor's "Varangian Guard," τάγμα τῶν Βαράγγων. Greek for "guard" would have been φύλαξ; but this does not seem to have been used.

This corps became the loyal shock troops and Life Guard of the Emperor, initially helping Basil win his civil war against Bardas Phocas. The Varangians are usually identifiable in historical accounts, even if not named as such, by their description as πελεκοφόροι, pelekophóroi (πελεκυφόροι, pelekyphóroi in Attic Greek), "axe bearers," from the single bladed axe, πέλεκυς, pélekys, with a handle up to six feet long, that they carried as their primary weapon -- seen in the image at right from the history of John Scylitzes, c.1057.

There also seems to have been some identification of this weapon with the fasces carried by the Lictors of the Roman Republic. Indeed, the appearance of the great axes on the battlefield came to signal the personal presence of the Emperor (although Varangians at first were often detailed to fight with other forces, as in Italy or Syria). Since no axes have been found in the archaeology, some are skeptical about their use, and think we may be confusing actual fasces with axes; but the historical record, with illustrations, as we see, is unambiguous. For more about the πέλεκυς, see here.

After the formation of the Varangian Guard, it quickly no longer became a matter of mercenaries provided by Russia. Indeed, it is not clear how long Vladimir's mercenaries had even been in Russia, and it has now been suggested that they were troublesome, recently arrived Swedes whom Vladimir was actually glad to send on. Be that as it may, the fame of the Varangian Guard spread quickly, and soon individual recruits were arriving, not just from Russia (and now of Slavic and not just Varangian origin), and not just from the immediate source of Russian Varangians, Sweden, but from as far away as Norway, Denmark, and even Iceland -- all the Norse lands, which by this point had converted to Christianity. We heard little of this from histories of the Vikings, as noted below -- although there is now a subset of Viking enthusiasts who embrace the Varangians and the Guard -- you can get "Varangian Guard" fantasy shirts at

Since all these Northern places were outside the limits of Classical geography, we find Anna Comnena characterizing all the Varangians, including the English ones, as from "Thule," Θούλη. This was conformable to ideas in geographers like Strabo, who refers to "Thule, the most northerly of the Britannic Islands," "six days sail north of Britain," although he expressed some skepticism about its existence. Thus, Gibbon speaks of "the British island of Thule," which now sounds very odd [The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Modern Library, p.368]. "Six days sail north of Britain," however, which was the formula of the Greek explorer Pytheas, might very well get us from Britain to Norway -- as, by coincidence, it duplicates the sailing time from Constantinople to Nova Anglia. Anna, however, would nevertheless have had accurate knowledge of the geography, since much earlier sources, like the Doctrina Jacobi, correctly name Britain, Βρεττανία, and even Ireland, Σκοτία -- i.e. Scotia at the time -- but the style of writers in Attic, like Anna, was only to use names attested in Classical sources, which did not even include Ῥωμανία.

The Norse recruits included the very interesting Harald Hardråde (or Haraldr Sigurðarson, Haraldr Harðráði), the subsequent King of Norway who would die in 1066 at Stamford Bridge, while invading England. The deeds of Harald and others would be recounted in the Icelandic Sagas, often written much later with fabulous or fanciful additions, but with sufficient detail to pin down their historical origins. Also, numerous rune stones have been found in Sweden, often at churches for the now Christian Swedes, that stand as cenotaphs or commemorative monuments to men who left for Romania (Grikland, Kirkium, etc., "Greece") and never came back. Some were installed before leaving by the men themselves. Some, of course, may have been for traders rather than members of the Varangian Guard, but a few mention deaths fighting in Serkland, i.e. Islamic lands (where the "Saracens" are), or in Lakbarþland, i.e. Langobardia, "Italy."

In time, the Norse recruits obtained their own church in Constantinople. In Greek sources, this is said to have been erected by the Emperor John II, in thanks for their role at the Battle of Beroë in 1122 against the Pechenegs, when the Varangians, outnumbered and with the day seemingly lost, defeated the enemy in a final, furious charge (the familiar Furor Normannorum). The Church was dedicated to the Virgin, who consequently became known there as the Panagía Varangiṓtissa, Παναγία Βαραγγιώτισσα, the "All Holy Lady of the Varangians."

Olav den Helliges død, the "Death of St. Olaf,"
killed by Tore Hund, Battle of Stiklestad, 1030;
by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892), 1859
According to many Norse sources, the Varangian Church was also dedicated to St. Olaf (or Olof, Olav, Olave) of Norway. This was Harald Hardråde's half-brother. Indeed, the 15-year-old Harald was present at the battle of Stiklestad in 1030, where Olaf was killed -- with reports of miracles immediately following. Harald fled with 500 retainers all the way to Constantinople, where he joined the Guard.

Olaf's opposition was a group of pagan nobility, in alliance with an opportunistic Christian Denmark. A leading nobleman was Tore Hund -- Thorir Hund, Þórir Hundr -- who was among the persons credited with a death blow against Olaf, using a spear tipped with a point that one of Olaf's retainers had used to kill a nephew of Tore. Despite this success, which benefited only King Canute of Denmark, Tore's fortunes did not prosper, and his fate is unknown. Olaf's son, Magnus I, soon retrieved the throne of Norway, followed by Harald.

In King Harald's Saga, we have Olaf appearing in visions to help Harald; and the Varangian Church is said to have been constructed on the spot of such a vision, although, of course, the dates we have for the founding of the Church are some years after Harald's sojourn there [cf. The Varangians of Byzantium by Sigfús Blöndal and Benedikt S. Benedikz, Cambridge University Press, 1978, 1981, 2007; Snorri Sturluson, King Harald's Saga, Penguin, 1966, 2005, p.61]. The Church is supposed to have contain a relic of Olaf, his sword, called Hneitir.

We might have expected the sword to have been brought by Harald himself, but we have a story in some detail that at the battle the sword was recovered by a Swede, who took it home with him. Several generations later, perhaps around 1152, a descendant of the Swede was in the Varangian Guard. He found that the sword seemed to move of its own volition during the night. When this was brought to the attention of the Emperor, now Manuel, and its history explained, the Emperor purchased it "in gold three times the value of the sword" and placed it in the Varangian Church "above the altar" [according to Snorri Sturluson; Blöndal & Benedikz, p.150]. There are now also claims, without any real evidence I am aware of, that the Madonna Nicopeia icon, currently in Venice, was originally at the Varangian Church, until looted in the Fourth Crusade. That would be a nice touch, and it could mean that the Nicopeia is the Βαραγγιώτισσα that the Varangians carried into battle; but I am afraid that it is no more than speculation.

"Bolli Bollasson," "the Elegant" Icelander in "his grandeur," The Varangian Guard, 988-1453, Raffaeli D'Amato, Illustrated by Giuseppe Rava, Men-at-Arms, 459, Osprey Publishing, 2010, p.26
While a companion of Hardråde eventually settled in Iceland, we also have the account of a native Icelander, Bolli Bollason (or Bollasson), as recounted in the Laxdaela Saga. Bollason's sojourn in Romania was quite early, in the 1020's, and he is said to be the first West Norseman in the Varangian Guard. When he returned home, fitted out with a red cape and gold trim on his weapons, reportedly, "Wherever he went, women paid heed to nothing but gazing at Bolli and his grandeur," by which he became known as "Bolli the Elegant" [Peter Frankopan, The First Crusade, The Call from the East, Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2012, p.28].

This sounds like a version of the Hobbits returning to the Shire in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, and indeed Tolkein was familiar with much of this Norse literature and derived many of his names, like even "Gandalf," from it. So one wonders if readers of Tolkein are seeing Bolli Bollason in action, as a Hobbit.

It is noteworthy that while the legend and the romance of the Vikings is still a part of popular culture -- I was entranced by The Vikings [1958], which I saw at Holloman Air Force Base in 1962 -- and most people retain an image of Viking barbarians fighting, looting, slaughtering, drinking, and raping (this is romance?), such awareness promply shuts down when the Norsemen convert to Christianity.

A recent documentary I saw about a Viking burial in Denmark said that the Vikings suddenly "disappeared" around 1000! Presumably, they stop (mostly) the looting and raping, and the reaction, as from Hollywood, is "You're no fun anymore!" or even "Where did you go?" (except for a movie like Ingmar Bergman's Virgin Spring [1960]).

But even as Christians, many Russians, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, and Icelanders were still looking for a good fight; and to find it they traveled to the greatest and most famous Christian monarch:  The Emperor of the Romans, ὁ τῶν Ῥωμαίων Βασιλεύς. Since they kept doing that for centuries, the word of mouth about their experiences must have been positive. It was a good fight (and good money), if not always a successful one. Yet this is completely off the radar, not only in popular culture, but even for a lot of academic scholarship. So when an incompetent documentary says that the Vikings "disappeared," the answer actually might be, "They went to Constantinople."

The map shows Romania in 1000 AD, at the Millennium, with the height of power of Middle Romania rapidly approaching. The extent of Bulgaria is open to question. Some sources say it stretched to the Black Sea. Whatever, it will soon be erased.

Having experienced the Millennium of the year 2000 in our day, we have the movie, End of Days [1999], with Arnold Schwarzenegger personally battling Satan, who is said to be released every thousand years (a somewhat loose reading of the Book of Revelation). This would mean that a similar difficulty occurred in 999, as well as 1999. Arnold wasn't around then, but Basil II was -- not only a great warrior but an Emperor who maintained a monk-like celibacy, and who was seen by most Christians as the principal defender of Christendom, as the Emperors had been since Constantine. Somebody missed a bet for a good movie, or at least a flashback, about that -- End of Days itself could have had a flashback explaining how Satan was easily thwarted in 999 by the undiminished wisdom, strength, and preparedness of Basil, Pope Sylvester II (this was before the Schism), and the Patriarch Sergius II of Constantinople. See some note on the sexuality in the movie here.

Mt. Áthōs, the Holy Mountain

The monks of Mt. Áthōs, Ἄθως, the Mt. Hiei, (比叡山), of Orthodox Christianity, could be brought into any story of the Millennium. Áthōs, is the "Holy Mountain," Ἅγιον Ὄρος, Hágion Óros. Because of the many Orthodox patriarchates represented on the Mountain, "Holy Mountain" is Света гора in Serbian and Bulgarian, Святая гора in Russian, and მთაწმინდა (mtats’minda) in Georgian (წ, ts’, is a glottalized affricative that figures in debates about Caucasian languages).

The Great Laura Monastery, the first of many in this most sacred place, had recently been built (961-963) by St. Athanasius. Tradition holds with some earlier foundations, and several small hermitages, as well as individual hermits in caves and elsewhere, certainly had been there for some time; but the Great Laura is the first for which there is contemporary historical documentation.

Áthōs is the most north-eastern of three peninsulas that extend out into the Aegean Sea from the larger peninsula of the Chalcidice. There are still 20 active monasteries on the Mountain, with a number of smaller settlements and institutions. The road from the mainland ends at Uranopolis (or Ouranoupoli, one now usually sees spellings that reflect modern Greek pronunciation -- I have Latinized many of the names, but the spelling of the monasteries especially reflects this trend). From there one (men only) must take a boat down to Daphne. From Daphne a road, recently built, goes up to Caryes (Karyes, Karyai), the town that is the administrative center of the Mountain, on the land of the Koutloumousiou Monastery.

Although most Greek churches operate under the authority of the autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church, Mt. Áthōs is still under the direct jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople, i.e. the "Ecumenical" Patriarch in İstanbul. Over the years, monasteries were founded, not just by Greeks, but by Georgians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Russians, and even Italians. The Italians are now gone (there being the Schism and all), but there are also (modern) Românians present, though they do not have their own monastery. Mt. Áthōs thus unites all the Orthodox Churches who share the theology of Constantinople. The mysticism of the theology of Mt. Áthōs contrasts with the humanism of Mistra -- this is discussed elsewhere in relation to the Renaissance.

Sadly, the great triumph of Romania was short-lived, although the picture of how this happened has been changing. Previously, the consensus was that the last Emperors of the Dynasty, all by marriage, squandered the strength of the State, debased the coinage, and neglected the thematic forces that had been the military foundation of Romania for four hundred years -- in part by now ignoring, as Basil II had not, the alienation of the land of thematic soldiers to large landowners who did not have the same military obligations. This was thought to be a kind of creeping feudalism, which Romania had previously avoided. Full feudalism has quashed, ironically, because of the Turkish conquest.

What was left of the Army, the Imperial guards of professionals and mercenaries, could not be relied upon in all circumstances, as Machiavelli would have warned, especially after the finances of the state were messed up. Before things had gone that far, however, we see that the attempt of Michael V, at the death of his uncle(?) Michael IV, to depose the Empress Zoë provoked a popular revolt. This included the Varangian Guard, which may have actually been commanded at the time by Harald Hardråde (1042). According to King Harald's Saga, Harald led the Guard to seize and blind Michael (whom it confuses with his successor, Constantine IX). This personal loyalty to Zoë, and her sister Theodora, was the best tribute to the faltering Macedonian dynasty.

While the corruption or decadence of the last Macedonians has long been a popular view, it has now come in for serious criticism and revision. In Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood, The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 A.D. to the First Crusade [Oxford University Press, 2017], Anthony Kaldellis disputes nearly all of its features. This especially involves a reevaluation of Constantine IX Monomachus, whose military measures, including some sort of transformation of the Armenian Themes, can be seen as either successful or, if obscure in import, not anything that manifestly weakened the Army or the State.

Kaldellis is especially hard on the "creeping feudalism" thesis. The land owners of Anatolia embodied nothing like the power that has been imputed to them. Most importantly, while real feudalism involves the growth of military forces in opposition to the those of the State, there is no evidence of anything of the sort in Romania. The Anatolian "feudal magnates" had no military forces of their own, and if they revolted while in command of Imperial forces, this is something that had been going on throughout the history of the Roman Empire. Instead, Kaldellis sees Romania in good shape at the end of the Dynasty, including under the final, non-dynastic Emperor, Isaac I Comnenus. Kaldellis, however, does see problems developing under the next Dynasty, the Ducases.

The Greek/Latin Schism of 1054

Symbolically, the breach between the Eastern and Western Churches in 1054, after something that had happened many times before, was the one that became permanent and henceforth separated the One Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church into the Pope's Latin Church, usually called "Roman Catholic," and the Patriarch of Constantinople's Greek Church, traditionally called "Greek Orthodox" -- along with the other autocephalous "Orthodox" Churches (Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Românian, etc.).

The similar estrangements earlier had always been patched up without much in the way of hard feelings. This was the expectation at the time; and the handling of the matter was so casual that later, when it became apparent that the breach was becoming permanent, the original documents could not even be found. Indeed, the Papal envoys in Constantinople didn't know that the Pope, Leo IX, had died and that their authority to do anything, much less excommunicate the Patriarch, had lapsed. So, ironically, the Schism began with no legal force, despite its becoming permanent.

The estrangement in religion came at a very bad time. When the Turks invaded Anatolia and the Crusading forces arrived from Francia, the Schism was a source of constant irritation and mistrust. It provided some rationalization for the seizure of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade; and later, when the Churches were apparently reconciled by the Palaeologi, it left most Greeks so disaffected that their support for their own government was compromised. Thus, for centuries, Christian forces were divided and weakened in the continuing confrontation with ʾIslām, all because of Papal pretentions.

None of this resulted in any doubts on the part of the Papacy, whose supremacy and authority still seem, even today, to be non-negotiable, despite "Ecumenicism" and moves of reconciliation. No kind words or back-slapping can disguise that, even as the Patriarch of Constantinople holds out in a City that has been all but emptied of Christians and whose regime has become increasingly hostile.

Macedonian Genealogy & Marriages

In the genealogical diagram here we see the confusion over the paternity of Leo VI. The greatest controversy of Leo's reign, however, was over his own marriages. He disliked his first wife, from an arranged marriage. She and their daughter died in the early years of his reign. He was then able to marry his long time mistress, Zoë. After delivering their daughter Anna, however, who would later marry Louis of Burgundy, Zoë soon died. This created a problem.

Unlike Henry VIII, whose problem was that he wanted divorces, Leo's problem was that in the Greek Orthodox Church second marriages, even after the death of a spouse, were discouraged and third marriages strongely condemned. While theoretically there was no provision for raison d'état, we can imagine the overriding need to provide an Heir for the Dynasty. The Patriarch, successor to Leo's own brother Stephen, granted a dispensation. His new wife, Eudocia, then died in childbirth, followed shortly by the infant son.

Now Leo really had a problem. St. Basil had said that fourth marriages were the equivalent of polygamy, "a practice bestial and wholly alien to humankind." Leo therefore took a mistress, Zoë Carbonopsina (Ζωή ἡ Καρβωνοψίνα, Zoë of the "Coal Black Eyes"), who then in 905 gave birth to a son, destined to be Constantine VII -- ironically the Porphyrogenitus, Πορφυρογέννητος, Porphyrogénnētos, "Born in the Purple" (I love this in German -- der Purpurgeborene), who nevertheless had been born a bastard.

The Patriarch, now Nicholas I Mysticus, refused to baptize the boy unless Zoë was expelled from the Palace. She was. But Constantine was still a bastard, so Leo brought Zoë back and got a priest to marry them and legitimize the Heir. The result was considerable furor. But a marriage by an ordained priest is a marriage, despite what the Patriarch thought about it. Leo cleverly played the Photian and Ignatian factions of the Greek Church off each other and meanwhile appealed to Pope Sergius III.

The Latin Church had no problem with serial marriages, just with divorce. So, in 907, with Sergius' belessing, Leo deposed Patriarch Nicholas (who would subsequently be restored), and installed Euthymius I, who was persuaded to agree with the Papal ruling (more or less). Thus, where Henry VIII broke with the Pope (Clement VII), and abolished the whole Church of Rome in England, in pursuit of a male heir, Leo's own pursuit was consummated by the timely help of the Pope, when the Greek and Latin halves were still One Roman Catholic Church (Una Romana Catholica Ecclesia), against the Patriarch. Leo did not long outlive the controversy.

The Nieces of Basil II and Charles II

Subsequently, in the minorities of Constantine VII, Basil II, and Constantine VIII, we see multiple reigns from Imperial in-laws. Romanus I almost derailed the dynasty; but John I and Nicephorus II were extremely vigorous and successful in retrieving Roman fortunes and territory, progress finally to be sealed by the adult Basil.

This great Basil, however, had remained celibate and failed to provide for the future of the family. After the death of Constantine VIII, only Basil's nieces, Theodora and Zoë, whom Basil had irresponsibly allowed to become nuns, remained of the line. This may have been Basil's greatest failing as a ruler.

Zoë, already past childbearing at 50, endured three marriages to provide male sovereigns. The traditional view of Byzantinists was that these in-laws were as bad for the Empire as the earlier ones had been good. As we have seen, this may require rethinking. We see a few misadventures and troubles. The soundness of the Empire apparently continues, but there are some ominous signs for the future.

Oddly enough, a marriage had once been arranged for Zoë, who at the time of the death of the German Emperor Otto III (1002) was actually on the way to marry him. She landed at Bari just to learn that Otto had died, returning home on the same ship. I have never seen why no other marriage was ever arranged.

Michael IV had a nephew through whom the succession might have continued, with the consent of Zoë. However, Michael V was a stupid and vicious character, who insanely, without an heir himself, castrated his own male relatives, including his own brother. When he then tried to depose Zoë, the City and even the Varangian Guard rose against him. Zoë, briefly missing, was not found before her sister Theodora was called out of her convent to the Throne. Later, after the death of Constantine Monomachus, whom Zoë predeceased, Theodora briefly reigned alone at the end of the Dynasty.

This all was so unlike the policy of Charles II of England, who, far from celibate, nevertheless was left with no legitimate heirs himself. Like Basil, his brother had two daughters, Mary and Anne. Charles not only arranged key marriages for them, but had ironically, as a Catholic sympathizer himself, required that they be raised and married Protestant, thereby securing a Protestant succession in Britain after the inevitable disaster, which he anticipated, of his foolish Catholic brother, James II.

The only flaw in the plan of Charles was that fate conspired against it. William and Mary were childless, which has led to endless speculation about its causes. Anne was not childless, but actually endured no less than 17 pregnancies, three of which (no more!) resulted in promising live births. The cause of this is also a matter of speculation. Two of those children were struck down by smallpox, and the promising male heir, who well survived infancy, died on the doorstep of puberty, at 11-years-old. Otherwise, the Stuart heirs who might have continued the House, like the Pretender James "III," refused to do the one thing that could have won them the Throne, renouncing Catholicism for the Church of England. Evidently, the "mass" that Henry IV accepted for the Throne of France was something the Stuarts could not surrender, at the cost of exile and obscurity. The last Stuart, Henry (1725-1807), was suitably celibate himself, as a Catholic priest and Cardinal. And so the wise provisions of Charles II, so different from those of Basil II, came to the same unfortunate result.

Macedonian Foreign Marriages

The genealogy of the Macedonians is supplemented here with an abbreviated tree showing the major foreign marriages of the Dynasty. The marriage of Romanus II to the daughter of Hugh of Arles is shown above, but there are four other marriages noted here. Two of them are not attested by all sources.

Note the marriage of Maria Argyropoulaina to a son of the Doge of Venice. This was arranged by Basil II well before the marriage of Romanus III Argyrus to Zoë. Maria is supposed to have introduced the fork to Venice when arriving there with Giovanni in 1004 or 1005 [cf. Judith Herrin, "Venice and the Fork," Byzantium, The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire, Princeton & Oxford, 2007, pp.203-205].

Leo VI did have a daughter Anna (by his second wife), and marrying her to Hugh's predecessor in Burgundy, while his grandson married Hugh's daughter, produces a reasonable reciprocity; but marrying a true Porphyrogenita, a "Born in the Purple" Princess, to a barbarian king (which is what Louis III would have seemed to most), is something that some sources say was inconceivable, which is why all that the Emperor Otto II got was merely the niece of an Imperial in-law, John Tzimisces.

Note that in Greek Porphyrogenita is still Πορφυρογέννητος, Porphyrogénnētos -- in Greek a compound, although feminine, retains the second declension ending, -os, otherwise used for masculines -- a scruple not observed in Latin -- see further discussion in relation to Anna Comnena below.

Theophano (or Theophanu) Scleraena, Θεοφανὼ Σκλήραινα (955-991), was no Porphyrogenita (though some sources can be found referring to her as John's own daughter, or even as a daughter of Romanus II). Constantine VII himself asserted that a Porphyrogenita could not be married to a foreign prince -- although he then made an exception for the Franks. The most significant exception, however, would be St. Vladimir, who certainty did marry the Porphyrogenita sister, Anna, of Basil II and Constantine VIII. Since this attended the conversion of Russia to Christianity (989), with the material contribution of Russian (Varangian) troops to the Roman Army, it could well have been thought worth the price.

John Tzimisces and Christian Names

I have mentioned John I Tzimisces more than once. He was a great general, perhaps coming close enough to Jerusalem to lay eyes on it. Defeating the Russians in 971, Tzimisces gave Varangians a taste of a professional Army, something the Norsemen did not need to worry about with most of their Western European victims -- where feudal levies, showing up late and disorganized, could do little about Viking raids. Between that and their encounters with the Roman Navy, something only a cash economy could support, the Russians had to learn, more than once, that Constantinople was a different kind of enemy, one that would not become a victim to be humiliated, the way, in particular, that Rollo humiliated Charles the Simple in 911 (it would be the later Italians to accomplish that).

Tzimisces was an in-law of the Macedonians and Scleri, and through his mother a member of the Phocas family -- although the assassin of his own uncle, Nicephorus Phocas. But his own paternal lineage was the Curcuas, Κουρκούας, family -- evidently from Armenian Գուրգեն, Gurgen. "Tzimisces," Τζιμισκής, is not a surname but a sobriquet, of uncertain meaning and derivation. The "tz" cluster does not look like Greek phonology (although becoming more common as Greek mixes in the Balkan Sprachbund), and most opinion seems to be that it is from Armenian, like Tzimisces' own family.

The possible word cited from Armenian is Չմշկիկ, chmshkik, "red boot," which sounds like an epithet that John might have picked up, perhaps as a child (like Caligula's "little boot"). This is also transcribed as chmushkik, although there is no "u" (ու, the digraph, like Greek ου, that we see in Gurgen) written there in Armenian, which otherwise may be using a vocalic "m." In any case, there is no good evidence or certainty about this identification or its meaning. It remains one of the more curious names found among the Emperors of Romania. But John's given name is also noteworthy.

As I have commented above, actual Christian Biblical names have been relatively rare among Christian Roman Emperors, with the Macedonians as no exception.. This is especially striking with the name "John," Ἰωάννης (Iōánnēs, Latin Johannes), which is a supremely Christian Biblical name but previously here has only occurred with a usurper in the 5th century. Until recently in the United States and Britain, "John" and "Mary" were the most common given names.

But here, beginning with Tzimisces and some Michaels (Μιχαήλ), Biblical names start becoming more common -- even though not everyone wants to admit their identity in the common culture of Christianity. There will eventually be eight Johns and Michaels each, with the occasional Thomas, Θωμᾶς, Isaac, Ἰσαάκιος, and David, Δαυίδ, with some names less familiar in English, like Manuel, Μανουήλ (from Emmanuel, in Greek and Spanish, a name for the Messiah, i.e. Jesus). We may think of George, Γεώργιος, as a Christian name, but it only became so because of St. George, Ἅγιος Γεώργιος, whom I discuss below, and it was never the name of in Emperor in Constantinople -- although, like Peter, Πέτρος, not unusual elsewhere, as we shall see.

The Monomach Russian Marriage

The final marriage here is the potentially the most interesting but also somewhat problematic. Brian Tompsett's Royal and Noble Genealogy gave a sister "Irene" for the Empresses Zoë and Theodora, who is said to have married Vsevolod of Kiev, grandson (by an earlier marriage) of St. Vladimir [still listed this way as of June 2011]. I have not seen a single Macedonian genealogy that lists such an "Irene." This is of great interest because their son, Володимѣрь Мономахь, Vladimir II Monomakh, was the grandfather of Ingeborg of Novgorod, who married (1118) Knut Lavard Eriksson, the father of King Valdemar the Great of Denmark (1157-1182). Through the intermarriages of the subsequent royalty of Denmark, we get connections to many of the rulers of Europe. Thus, it is sometimes said that Queen Elizabeth II of England is a descendant of the Emperor Basil I. But that would only be true if Irene really was a Macedonian.

Other sources have a slightly different claim. The Royal Families of Medieval Scandinavia, Flanders, and Kiev, by Rupert Alen and Anna Marie Dahlquist [Kings River Publications, Kingsburg, CA, 1997], says that Irene (or Irina) was "a daughter of Constantine IX Monomach" [p.160]. That is a lot different. Constantine was the Empress Zoë's third husband. She was already 64 when they married, so there is not much chance that Irene was her child, but Constantine was a widower (twice), and it is not surprising that he would have previous children, although Byzantine histories don't seem to bother addressing the issue. Vladimir II is called Мономахь, "Monomakh," which thus sounds like a tribute to his Roman grandfather.

Constantine IX's parentage for Irene is also featured in the Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, Volume II, Part 2, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser II Nord-, Ost- und Südeuropa [Andreas Thiele, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Part 2, Second Edition, 1997, p.81] and Volume III, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser, Ergänzungsband [Andreas Thiele, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Second Edition, 2001, p.218]. This gives us a much more reasonable picture. It does mean that Queen Elizabeth is not a descendant of Basil I (or Michael III, whatever); but she is a descendant of Constantine IX Monomachus, as can be seen on this popup. The genealogy also shows the descent of Elizabeth from Harold II of England, who was killed by the Normans at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Harold's daughter Gytha, has it happens, married Vladimir Monomakh.

Pages at Wikipedia give the wife of Vsevolod and the mother of Vladimir Monomakh as an "Anastasia (Ἀναστασία) of Byzantium," with the gloss that her parentage with Constantine IX "is not attested in any reliable primary source." I do not see the name "Anastasia" in any of my print references, as discussed above. Also, while I am not familiar with the primary sources for these issues (and the matter does not seem to be addressed in the Greek histories), I am curious what the difference would be between a "reliable primary source" and whatever other primary sources would have addressed the marriages of Vsevolod.

However, if Irene/Anastasia was not the daughter of Constantine IX, my fundamental questions would then be (1) who such a person would have been to have come from Byzantium to marry the son of a Prince of Kiev, and (2) how her son would then (coincidentally?) end up with the name or epithet "Monomakh" (Мономахь, Μονομάχος)? This would all be exceedingly curious, to say the least. What makes the most sense at this point is that Constantine IX was Vladimir II's grandfather, with the marriage of Vsevolod arranged in 1046, after the attack on Constantinople in 1043, by Yaroslav I the Wise of Kiev (1019-1054).

At left is the "Cap of Monomakh," шапка Мономаха. In legend, this was presented by Constantine IX to his grandson and namesake, Vladmir II Monomakh. This is unlikely for a couple of reasons. First, Constantine died in 1055, and Vladimir didn't become Grand Prince until 1113. So the dates don't add up. Next, the design of the "Cap" isn't Byzantine.

It looks Central Asian, especially with the wreath of fur around it, and one hypothesis is that it was a gift, and a symbol of vassalage, from Muḥammad Özbeg Khan (1313-1341) of the Blue Horde to Ivan I Kalitá (1325-1341) of Moscow. Ivan took over the throne of Vladimir, with the consent of the Khan. This would have been a significant occasion.

Even that origin of the crown is speculative. The first coronation in Moscow was in 1498, and the "Cap" already seems to have been used. The cross, of course, had not been on the original crown, if it had come from the Khan. Or from that Khan, since the Khan of the Crimea has also been suggested as its source. Ivan IV, who first claimed the title "Tsar," may also have been the first to assert that he was a "Tsar" because the crown had come from Constantine IX. Later, newer, more European type crowns were designed for the Russian monarchs.

The Russian Attack of 1043

This Russian attack in 1043 is a matter of some interest. It may have been coincidence, opportunism, or coordination that it coincides with the revolt of George Maniaces in the same year. It was pressed forward, with some 400 ships and 20,000 men, despite the death of Maniaces from a wound and the end of his revolt. We also hear that there was a complaint over some Russian merchants being killed in a fight in the marketplace in Constantinople. Rejecting an offer to buy off the attack (at 1000 solidi per ship), Monomachus set the Roman fleet to engage the Russians.

With the help of Greek Fire, the Russians were routed. Some 6,000 of them went into the water and were taken prisoner when they swam to shore. Many were said to have been blinded, perhaps in emulation of Basil II's treatment of the Bulgars. The remaining, retreating Russian fleet was pursued but turned to stop the Romans, and retrieve some credit, in a successful rearguard action. Nevertheless, since the Russian fleet never even made it all the way to Constantinople, the attack of 1043 is not counted as one of the actual Sieges of Constantinople.

The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium says that the Russian fleet was "defeated in the Bosporos by the Byz. general THEOPHANES" [Alexander P. Kazhdan, Alice-Mary, Talbot, Anthony Cutler, Timothy E. Gregory, Nancy P. Ševčenko, Oxford University Press, 1991, "JAROSLAV," Volume 2, p.1032].

The all capitals for the name of Theophanes signifies a reference to a separate article in the Dictionary about him. However, there is no such article in the work. Instead, this business seems to involve a confusion with the Russian attack on Constantinople in 941, recounted above, where the fleet was indeed commanded by the protovestiarius (πρωτοβεστιάριος) Theophanes, for whom there is no article in the Oxford Dictionary either. The similarity of the attacks of 941 and 1043 is perhaps the source of the confusion in the Dictionary.

A πρωτοβεστιάριος was originally a eunuch in charge of the Emperor's clothing. This may be why Theophanes is said to have been a eunuch; but from now on it is not unusual for someone with this title to be commanding armies and assuming other public duties. And many of the protovestiarii certainly are no longer eunuchs.

This 1043 battle may be the last example of a decisive victory by the Roman Navy before, later in the century, after Manzikert, the fleets of the Italian cities begin to dominate the Mediterranean and replace the Romans. The sequel of the battle is obscure, but we can speculate that the marriage of Constantine's daughter was part of the restoration of the previous good relations with the Russians, in a treaty of 1046. In turn, the Roman success here contributes to a revised evaluation of Monomachus as an Emperor. In both battle and diplomacy, the Empire seems quite at the top of its game. There is nothing of the hesitation or confusion that we see later.

Confusions about Events

Harald Hardråde was still in the Varangian Guard in 1043, and we might even imagine him participating in the battle. King Harald's Saga, with some confusion of reigns and dates, has Harald escaping from Constatinople after kidnapping an otherwise unattested niece, Maria, of the Empress Zoë. A Viking kidnapping and carrying off a princess would not be so remarkable, but we are then told that before crossing the Black Sea, Harald dropped her off with a guard to escort her back to Constantinople. What the hell kind of Viking does that?

This makes me wonder. Could such a strange story, which seems impossible in more than one way, reflect the circumstance that Harald himself escorted Irene/Anastasia to Kiev between 1044-1046? He arrived back in Norway to claim the throne in 1047. An escort job would thus nicely coincide with the period of his transit home; and it would involve an actual Roman princess, whose part in the matter could easily be garbled in the Saga. All this would dramatically tie together the events of a striking naval battle in the Bosporus (1043), the marriage of Vsevelod to a Roman princess (1046), and the fateful reign of Harald in Norway (1047-1066), culminating in the events (1066) that precipitate the entry of Englishmen into the Varangian Guard.

I recommend this story to Hollywood, which has often featured İstanbul in its movies but never Constantinople. Nothing like Roman ships, "dromonds," δρόμωνες, galleys with lateen sails, throwing flames on Viking longboats has ever been seen on film -- as I expect that Hollywood film-makers are entirely ignorant of the historical circumstances where that would have happened [note].

The potential for ongoing confusion over the position of Monomachus is evident in The Varangians of Byzantium by Blöndal and Benedikz [op.cit.]. Thus, they say:

In June [1043], when a large fleet under the command of Vladimir (Monomakh), son of Jaroslav, assailed the City, the Byzantines met it in the Bosphorus and defeated the combined force of Russians and Scandinavians, largely thanks to the use of Greek fire. [p.104]

This seems to confuse the eldest son of Yaroslav the Wise, Vladimir (sometimes even "II"), who predeceased Yaroslav, dying in 1052, with Vladimir II Monomakh, the grandson of Yaroslav and Constantine IX. The statement in its own terms is peculiar in the use of an epithet, "Monomakh," that echoes that of the Roman Emperor, in the name of a Russian leading an attack on that very Emperor.

This is unlikely to impossible on its face -- or that someone named after the Emperor would already be old enough to have such a command (Vladimir Monomakh was born in 1053). Instead, it is more reasonable that the marriage that produces Vladimir Monomakh was the result of the peace that followed the defeat of the Russian attack. Blöndal and Benedikz do not try to explain the anomalies that their identification generates.

Οὐ Νέμεσις

The marital arrangements of Constantine Monomachus have another curious feature. After two wives died, Constantine wished to marry Maria Scleraena, Μαρία Σκλήραινα (presumably not the same Maria Scleraena who had been married to John Tzimisces in the previous century). Third marriages, however, as we have seen, were generally forbidden by the Greek Church. So Constantine, in exile, simply lived with Maria.

Recalled from exile and married to the Empress Zoë (with the third marriage rule waived), in a marriage that may have been in name only, Constantine eventually brought Maria, with Zoë's consent, right into the palace and lived with her rather openly the rest of her life (she predeceased Zoë). Zoë even granted Maria the title Σεβαστή. This is usually translated "Augusta," but, in Greek, it was a cut below Αὐγοῦστα, which is the transcription from Latin and is used for Empresses.

When Maria first appeared in public at the theater, Michael Psellus relates that one of the courtiers quietly said, οὐ νέμεσις, Ou némesis, "No blame" [or "It were no shame," Twelve Byzantine Emperors, Penguin, 1966, p.185]. This was a quotation from a line in the Iliad (3:156), where the Trojan elders see Helen come out on the wall and say to themselves:

οὐ νέμεσις Τρῶας καὶ ἐϋκνήμιδας Ἀχαιοὺς τοιῇδ᾽ ἀμφὶ γυναικὶ πολὺν χρόνον ἄλγεα πάσχειν· αἰνῶς ἀθανάτῃσι θεῇς εἰς ὦπα ἔοικεν·

"Small blame [sic] that Trojans and well-greaved Achaeans should for such a woman long time suffer woes; wondrously like is she to the immortal goddesses to look upon." [Homer, The Iliad, 3:156-158, Loeb Classical Library, A.T. Murray translation, Harvard, 1924, 1988, pp.128-129]

Maria was sharp enough to note the whispered comment, but she had to ask about its meaning. For us, it reveals the education of the Constantinopolitan Court, in perhaps the only city in Europe in the 11th century where Homer was going to be read and taught [note].

This incident also tells us about the existence of the theater in Constantinople and the active social life revolving around attendance there. The elegance of this life was the target of some contempt in Western Europe. The Mediaeval banquet we see in The Lion in Winter [1968], in the days of Henry II of England (memorably played by Peter O'Toole in the movie), may not be far from the reality, nor the sport made over the use of the fork, which had been introduced at Venice, of course, by Maria Argyropulaena.

The events involving Maria Scleraena introduce a name that otherwise appears anomalously in the Saga of Harald Hardråde. Since there was no "niece" of the Empress Zoë to attract the attention of Harald, might it instead have been the "Maria" that we know about here? If there was any conflict between Harald and Constantine Monomachus, it could well have been over some improper approach of Harald to Maria, leaving in Harald's memory the thought that he would have liked to have blinded Constantine, rather than Michael Calaphates? But this would mean that Harald cannot have left Constantinople before the Russian attack of 1043, since the presence of both Constantine and Maria in the Capital depends on the overthrow of Michael. But it does give us the material of a nice hash of "Maria," Constantine IX, and leaving Constantiniople with a Princess, on the way to Kiev. This is just how we might expect the historical material in the sagas to get garbled, especially if Harald later told stories in a way that would be flattering to himself. See further discussion here.

A very brief non-dynastic interlude concludes the period. Isaac I was the first of the Comneni and can be found on the genealogy of the Comneni below.

Imperial Acclamations

The Grammar of Constantinve VII's Statement

Rome and Romania Index

1059 AD-1453 AD,
Era of Diocletian 776-1170, 394 years

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), "Sailing to Byzantium"

Romania, furthermore, is a very wide land with rugged, stony mountains. It extends south to Antioch and is bounded by Turkey on the east. All of it was formerly under Greek rule, but the Turks now possess a great part of it and, after expelling the Greeks, have destroyed another part of it. In the places where the Greeks still hold fortresses, they do not pay taxes.

Ultra Romaniam est terra latissima montibusque saxosis asperrima, meridiana sui parte pertingens usque Antiochiam et in orientali habens Turciam. Que cum tota esset juris Grecorum, hanc ex magna parte Turci possident; illis explusis, aliam destruxerunt. Ubi vero Greci adhuc munitiones obtinent, radditus parciuntur.

Such are the servile conditions in which the Greeks hold the land which French strength liberated when the Franks conquered Jerusalem. This indolent people would have lost it all, save for the fact that they have brought in soldiers of other nations to defend themselves. They are always losing, but since they possess a great deal, they do not lose everything at once. The strength of other peoples, however, is not sufficient for a people which totally lacks strength of its own.

Tali servicio retinent quod Francorum virtus, quia Ierosolimam conquisierunt, liberavit et perdidisset omnia populus iners; sed aurum auro redimens, diversarum gentium conductis militibus se defendit. Semper tamen perdit; sed, multa possidens, non potest omnia simul. Non enim sufficiunt aliene vires propriis destituto.

Odo [Eudes, Odon] de Deuil (1110-1162), La Croisade de Louis VII, roi de France, edited by Henri Waquet, Documents relatifs à l'histoire des croisades, Volume 3, Paul Guethner, Paris, 1949, pp.54, translated by James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, Marquette University Press, 1962, pp.111-112 [note].

Then followed a scene of massacre and pillage: on every hand the Greeks were cut down, their horses, palfreys, mules, and other possessions snatched as booty. So great was the number of killed and wounded that no man could count them. A great part of the Greek nobles had fled towards the gate of Blachernae; but by this time it was past six o'clock, and our men had grown weary of fighting and slaughtering. The troops began to assemble in a great square inside Constantinople. Then, convinced that it would take them at least a month to subdue the whole city, with its great churches and palaces, and the people inside it, they decided to settle down near the walls and towers they had already captured....

Our troops, all utterly worn out and weary, rested quietly that night. But the Emperor [Alexius V] Murzuphlus did not rest; instead, he assembled his forces and said he was going to attack the Franks. However, he did not do as he had announced, but rode along certain streets as far away as possible from those occupied by our army, till he came to a gate called the Golden Gate through which he escaped, and so left the city.

Geoffroy de Villehardouin (d.1218), "The Conquest of Constantinople," Chronicles of the Crusades, Penguin, 1963, p.91

Then out spake brave Horatius,
     The Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth
     Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
     Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
     And the temples of his gods"

Thomas Babington Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome, "Horatius [at the Bridge]," 1891, XXVII

This prophecy was made by Saint Constantine, the first Emperor to hold Constantinople, and he prophesied that Constantinople should never be lost, until the moon rose darkened when it was at the full, that is, lacking the half of it; so the present time was not that at which the city was to be lost, although it is true that its destruc­tion and the loss of the empire which belonged to it was drawing near.

Nicolò Barbaro, Venetian physician (1420-1494), Diary of the Siege of Constantinople, 1453.

ἴωμεν, ἄνδρες, ἐπὶ τοὺς βαρβάρους τούσδε.
Let's go, men, against these barbarians!

The Emperor Constantine XI Dragases, his last words, the Fifth Military Gate of Constantinople, May 29, 1453; Greek Text, Laonikos Chalkokondyles, Λαόνικος Χαλκοκονδύλης, The Histories, Volume II, Translated by Anthony Kaldellis, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Harvard University Press, 2014, p.192

"Then we must go higher. We must go to him whose office is to put down tyrants and give life to dying kingdoms. We must call on the Emperor."

"There is no Emperor."

"No Emperor..." began Merlin, and then his voice died away. He sat still for some minutes wrestling with a world which he had never envisaged."

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 1945, Scribner, 2003, p.290

The "Fourth Empire" begins with a blow, from an ʾIslām reinvigorated by the Turks, which represents not only a further diminution of the Empire, but a portent of the actual collapse and end of the Empire altogether. The catastrophic defeat at Manzikert alienated much of what had for long been the heartland of the Empire, Anatolia. It was a mortal wound, never to be made good; but the Empire nevertheless twice managed to struggle back up into at least local ascendancy, first under the Comneni and then under the Palaeologi.

The Comneni had help, of a very dangerous sort, in the form of the Crusaders. Defeat by the Turks was not the cruelest cut of the period. That was when the Crusaders, manipulated by Venice, took Constantinople in 1204.

With the Latins, the Empire fragmented into multiple Greek and non-Greek contenders:  Nicaea, Epirus, Trebizond, Bulgaria, and Serbia, not to mention the Turks. While the Palaeologi, building on the success of Nicaea, reestablished Greek rule, only Epirus of the other successor states came back under Imperial control. The Empire of Michael VIII did seem to have a chance, but a new Turkish state, of the Ottomans, soon surged into dominance. It took more than a century for the Ottomans to scoop up all the spoils, but, like a slow motion car crash, the outcome has a horrible inevitability.

Rome and Romania Index

A. THE ADVENT OF THE TURKS, 1059-1185, 126 years

1060 AD -- Roman territory is intact, but the military and financial foundations of Roman power have been undermined. The coinage is debased for the first time since Constantine. Resources have been wasted absorbing Armenia, and the forces of the Armenian themes have been disbanded. Local Islamic states are no threat, but the Seljuks are on the way.

Constantine X

Loss of Armenia, 1064

Romanus IV

jure uxoris
Defeated and Captured by Seljuk Great Sulṭān Alp Arslan, Battle of Manzikert; Bari captured by Normans, 1071; solidus debased to 2/3 gold
Michael VII

"Minus a Quarter"
solidus debased to 3/8 gold
Nicephorus III

jure uxoris

Downfall at Manzikert

The Ducases had the misfortune of suffering the most catastrophic defeat of Roman arms since the Arabs won Palestine and Syria at Yarmuk in 636:  The defeat by the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert in 1071, a battle lost more to miscalculation, confusion, or perhaps treachery than to military superiority. And Romanus IV Diogenes became the only Roman Emperor besides Valerian to be captured in battle by an external enemy.

Romanus was luckier than Valerian, in that he was treated with dignity and even kindness by the Sulṭān Alp Arslan, and even released after no more than eight days; but he was unlucky, as the Sulṭān himself ruefully appreciated, that he would return to a situation where he had already been deposed as Emperor.

After the fall of several cities to Turkish raiders and to Alp Arslan himself, Diogenes had begun campaigning in the region, with some success. In 1071 the Emperor made the mistake of dividing his army without realizing that the Sulṭān himself was nearby with a large army, maneuvering to avoid Roman forces stationed to intercept any Turks. Roman reconaissance was woefully deficient. With the battle joined, and pursing the Turks after their traditional tactic of attack and retreat (a speciality of nomads, as previously of the Arabs), Diogenes suddenly realized what he was up against and that he was in an exposed position.

Signaling a withdrawal, he was misunderstood, resulting in the flight of many troops, some of whom seem to have withdrawn out of misunderstanding or treachery, leaving the Emperor even more exposed and vulnerable to being surrounded in a counter-attack, which he was -- and captured.

So the battle did not result in as general Roman losses as at Adrianople or Yarmuk, but the Varangian Guard was pretty much annihilated defending the Emperor, and the army was left dispersed and disorganized. Also, in subsequent recriminations, the accusation was made that the precipitate retreat was not a mistake, but a treacherous abandonment. It is not clear whether this is credible or not.

What did follow, regardless of the policy of the Sulṭān, was Turkish migration into Anatolia, something the Romans seemed helpless to stop. Since Anatolia had always been the heartland of the Empire, its being overrun by invaders, with the population dying or fleeing, permanently damaged the manpower resources of the state. This then qualifies as the third of the "Downfall" battles recounted here. The Empire would no longer have the strength to struggle back to anything like the predominant position it held previously. Even all the recovery effected by the Comneni would be undone by the Fourth Crusade. Things would limp along for some centuries, but the handwriting was definitely on the wall.

Trying to retrieve his position, Diogenes was defeated by the forces of the Caesar John Ducas, uncle of the new Emperor, Michael VII. Romanus, a mere in-law of course, eventually surrendered on terms of civil treatment -- but nevertheless died soon after the Caesar had him blinded, perhaps on order of Michael or another relative.

The picture of the respectful consideration of the Turk and the ferocious brutality of the Romans leaves an impression, like the earlier treatment of the Goths, both sorrowful and bitter. Alp Arslan himself reportedly was furious about the treatment of Diogenes. Meanwhile, this brief period of civil war substantially magnified the significance and effect of the original battle.

While there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Alp Arlsan's ʾIslām, his Court and that of his successor, Malik Shāh, under the influence of their great Vizir, Nizām al-Mulk, displays an intellectual power and cosmopolitan expansiveness that is well represented by the mathematician, astronomer, and poet ʿUmar Khayyām (d.1122). Is the Rubaiyat cynical or merely worldly? It is hard to say. Whatever it is, one wonders to what extent some attitude of the sort can be discerned in the behavior of the Sulṭān. Nevertheless, it is something that passes quickly. The greatest philosopher of the era, and one of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages, al-Ghazālī (1058-1111), nevertheless fiercely attacked and effectively snuffed out the tradition of Greek philosophy in the Central Islāmic lands. Thus, the damage was done to Romania, but intellectually ʾIslām itself was now headed into decline.

The civil war between the Ducases and Romanus Diogenes wasted time and resources while Turkish forces and raiders were still busy, and unmolested, in Anatolia. But worse was to come. Anthony Kaldellis points out that Roman energies and resources were decisively impacted, not by the Turks, but by the rebellion of one of the Empire's own Frankish mercenaries, Roussel de Bailleul [Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood, The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 A.D. to the First Crusade, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp.256-261].

In 1073, an army led by Isaac Comnenus, accompanied by his younger brother, the future Emperor Alexius, advanced into Anatolia. Before any engagements, Bailleul deserted with his Frankish contingent. Continuing on, Comnenus was defeated by the Turks at Caesarea (Καισάρεια, Turkish Kayseri). Kaldellis says, "his was the last Roman army that would march across Asia Minor to Kaisareia" [p.258, emphasis by Kaldellis].

Roussel then set out to create his own state in Asia Minor. A Roman army under Isaac Comnenus, his son John, and Nicephorus Bontaniates, the future Emperor, was sent against Roussel. Bontaniates withdrew before Roussel when his own Frankish contingent deserted to him. Comnenus was captured and had to be ransomed. Again, Kaldellis says, "Theirs was to be the last Roman army in Asia Minor making any progress inland before the First Crusade" [ibid.]. With a small number of men, Alexius Comnenus set out after Roussel, who was betrayed to him by a local Turkish leader. When Alexius took Roussel back to Constantinople, he could only leave Anatolia undefended behind him.

What had hitherto been the heartland of Romania in Anatolia, now became a bleeding wound to Turkish conquest, never to be recovered. Simultaneously, the Normans won, for all time, the last Roman city in Italy -- Bari. In 31 years (1040-1071), Romania had been finally expelled from Italy, 535 years after Belisarius had landed against the Ostrogoths.

The Return of Surnames

The Ducas, Δούκας, family gave us the first Mediaeval Roman dynasty with a surname, which shows some of the social changes that took place during the long period of the Macedonians. We have already seen some surnames among the Macedonian in-laws, such as Lecapenus, Λακαπηνός, Phocas, Φωκᾶς, Curcuas, Κουρκούας, Monomach, Μονομάχος, Bringas, Βρίγγας, and the first Comnenus, Κομνηνός. The Macedonians themselves do not seem to have had a surname, and it is not even certain they were actually Macedonians. Also, we see Michael IV, the Paphlagonian, who is still identified by place of origin, as is familiar from Greek names in the Classical period. In turn, Michael's nephew and successor, Michael VI Calaphates, is called after the trade of his father, Καλαφάτης, a "Caulker."

But from now on, we find that dynasties are identified by surname -- Ducas, Δούκας, Comnenus, Κομνηνός, Angelus, Ἄγγελος, Lascaris, Λάσκαρις, and Palaeologus, Παλαιολόγος. Even Epirus and Trebizond are ruled by Ducases and Comneni, respectively. Within the dynasties, we find as in-laws the names Vatatzes, Βατάτζης, among the Lascarids, and Cantacuzenus, Καντακουζηνός, among the Palaeologi.

The origin of the names is various, with Ducas itself from the Latin rank of dux (q.v.), used in Greek as δούξ. Some of these names we see today, not the least of which being the feminine surname become a given name, Ἀγγελίνα, "Angelina." Cantacuzenus turns up among the Phanariot Princes of România. Monomach, Μονομάχος, which means "fighting in single combat," has the look of a sobriquet; but, born by Constantine IX, it is unlikely to have been earned by him personally. So it appears to be his surname, earned by an ancestor, as it will be born by his Russian grandson.

The Ducas genealogy is given both here and below with the Comneni. The marriages of Constantine, the son of Michael VII, and his second wife, Anna Comnena, are of particular interest. The intermarriage of the Ducases with the Normans of Italy might have made for some political differences -- had the young bride, Helen, lived.

The English Varangians: οἱ Ἐγκλινοβάραγγοι

By about the time of Manzikert, there were interesting new recruits to the Varangian Guard. Where Harald Hardråde had failed to conquer England in 1066, William the Conqueror, within days of the Norwegian defeat, would succeed at Hastings. The Norman Conquest spelled the dispossession of the native Saxon nobility, who then began to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Many of them consequently were drawn to the Varangian Guard. Having lost England to the Normans, who were Vikings, Englishmen served the Empire that had withstood them, as the Varangians, in the East.

The English would continue to do so for more than three centuries -- the first reference to Englishmen in the service of Romania was in 1080, the last in 1404 -- 324 years. Indeed, now we see references that 4350 English emigrants in 235 ships arrived at Constantinople in 1075 [Chronicon universale anonymi Laudunensis], or that the English arrived in 350 ships and were in part settled in a Nova Anglia, a "New England" far from Plymouth Rock [according to the Icelandic Játvarðar Saga].

According to Geoffroy de Villehardouin, there were still "Englishmen and Danes" defending Constantinople when the Fourth Crusade arrived in 1203. After the Greek recovery of the City by the Palaeologi in 1261, we have some indication that the surviving Varangian Guard may have been entirely English. In 1272 Michael VIII Palaeologus wrote a letter mentioning the Englishmen in his service, now called the Ἐγκλινοβάραγγοι, Egklinováraggoi (sing. Ἐγκλινοβάραγγος, Egklinováraggos -- Enklinobarangi in Latin, sing. Enklinobarangus) [cf. Sigfús Blöndal and Benedikt S. Benedikz, op.cit., p.172].

Like the Norsemen, the English Varangians seem to have had their own church in Constantinople, dedicated to Saints Nicholas and Augustine of Canterbury (the Apostle to the English). Under subsequent Palaeologi, however, they fade from history. The ruins of their church, however, survive as the Boğdan Sarayı, near the Gate of the Charisius, now the Edirne Kapısı. This identification does not seem to be widely recognized, and it derives its Turkish name from an association of the later quarters for the legation from Moldavia; but Bettany Hughes cites archaeological evidence, most of which has now become lost [Istanbul, A Tale of Three Cities, Da Capo Press, 2017, pp.321-322].
Letters from Emperors
about English Varangians
Manuel IHenry II1176
Michael VIIIHenry III?1272
John VIIHenry IV1402

One might wonder, however, why go all the way to Constantinople? Was the Varangian Guard really that big a deal? Well, part of the problem for a sort of European Rōnin, 浪人 (masterless warrior in a feudal system) is that, in the absence of cash economies, nobody was hiring mercenaries. If Englishmen wanted to be hired to fight after 1066, they needed to go to where there was a paid, professional military. In Christian Europe, that was still only in Constantinople -- still only the Tagmata. A noteworthy exception to this was in the South of Italy, where a cash economy existed, mainly because of its inclusion in the economic sphere of Romania.

Cities like Naples had conducted trade with Constantinople both during their time as Roman possessions, after being recovered from the Ostrogoths, and then as they slowly drifted out of the control of Constantinople. They also conducted trade with Islāmic states, especially after the Aghlabids had conquered Sicily. This often scandalized other Christians. But it was even worse when they began to hire Muslim mercenaries. An Englishman, of course, might belong to the Varangian Guard but be fighting in Southern Italy nevertheless. There they would have met other mercenaries with whom they were not likely to have friendly relations:  Normans who had come from Normandy looking for their own fortunes.

The Norman mercenaries in Roman service had gone over to local rebels in 1040. When the English arrived, they found themselves actively fighting kinsmen of their old enemies, in Italy, Epirus, and Greece. These Normans were able to expel the Romans from Italy, recover Sicily from ʾIslām, and then create a united Kingdom of Naples and Sicily. This resulted in the economic decline of the South Italian commercial cities. As the trade they had pioneered moved North, other Italian cities became wealthy enough to hire their own mercenaries. These become the famous mercenary Condottiere of the Renaissance.

According to a recently released book, The Varangian Guard, 988-1453, by Raffaele D'Amato [Men-at-Arms, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, & Long Island City, NY, 2010]: Dobroudja [Dobruja, on the Black Sea at the mouth of the Danube], a short-lived Anglo-Saxon settlement called by the Varangians 'Nova Anglia' was created at the end of the 11th century... The chronicler Ordericus Vitalis recorded that 'the English were much distressed by their loss of liberty... A number of them, with the fresh bloom of youth upon them, went to distant lands.' [p.13]

D'Amato says that one of the English exiles in Romania was "the pretender Edward Atheling" [p.13]. I do not know who this would be. There does not seem to be such a person as listed in the genealogies of either the Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, Volume II, Part 1, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser I Westeuropa [Andreas Thiele, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Third Edition, 2001, p.264] or The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens [Mike Ashley, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., New York, 1998, 1999, p.468, 491-498].

We find "Edward the Exile" and "Edgar the Atheling," but no "Edward Atheling." Edward the Exile was sent into exile, hopefully to his death, by Canute. He didn't die and did spend time at the Hungarian Court (where he married the daughter, Agathe, of King St. Stephen I). Recalled by Edward the Confessor, he was murdered, perhaps by partisans of Harold Godwinsson, and then his young son Edgar was made Heir Apparent. That was in 1057, so Edward could not have gone into exile after 1066. Too young to rule, Edgar was pushed aside by Harold in 1066.

After Harold's death, Edgar was proclaimed King but then in short order surrendered to William. Edgar is the best candidate for exile in Romania, but that does not seem to be what happened. He was the obvious Pretender to the English Throne and spent many years at the Scottish Court (where King Malcolm married Edgar's sister Margaret) and elsewhere, stirring up trouble for the Normans. Eventually, he was pardoned by King Henry I and spent his remaining years, in increasing obscurity, on an English estate. However, according to the Mammoth Book [p.498], Edgar did go on Crusade in 1099. This may have involved some contact with Romania and so may be the source for D'Amato's (confused) reference.

I have recently found Bettany Hughes listing evidence that English Varangians settled in the Crimea, with references to them in subsequent centuries. This seems altogether credible, and I examine Hughes' information here. There was nothing "short lived" about this Nova Anglia, but D'Amato maybe just doesn't have the right sources. The English Varangians in the Crimea later simply seem to have converted to ʽIslām and blended with the local Crimean Tartars.

The long history of the English Varangians, as with the original and continuing Norse Varangians, accompanies the long decline of Romania. As declines go, 400 years is not what anyone would think of as abrupt or precipitous, but it was continuing and unreversed. The Varangian role has its melancholy aspect, as the Scandinavians and English are unable to prevent that decline, and as local Roman sources of wealth and manpower obviously undergo progressive decay in effectiveness.

But there also is an aspect to it of great romance and nobility. In the last centuries of the Roman Empire, essential help came through the interest and devotion of individual foreign warriors, both from the most distant of old Roman possessions, Britain, and from peoples and lands, in the North, that had really been off the map and beyond the knowledge of Augustus, Trajan, or even Justinian.

It is the sort of thing for which there really should be some small monuments in Kiev, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Reykjavík, and London in tribute to their countrymen who took the long trip to fight in the defense of Constantinople, over so many years. Yet, with the history of participation in the Varangian Guard largely forgotten, and the whole existence and history of "Byzantium" so generally ignored or despised, it is not clear who would have the interest to build such monuments and to commemorate such measures of devotion to the last Emperors in successon to Augustus and Constantine, and to what for long was still the greatest City of Christendom. It is a pity.

One good turn deserves another. So, after refugees from England fought for Romania after 1066, Greeks fleeing the Ottomans fought for England after 1453. We have a detailed account, better than for any English Varangian, about Thomas of Argos, Θωμὰς ἐξ Ἄργους, who commanded a battalion of Greek mercenaries, whom he called Ἕλληνες, in the army of King Henry VIII. Mercenaries recuited from several Balkan countries were called stratioti or stradioti in Italian, στρατιώτες in Modern Greek (singular στρατιώτης, plural στρατιῶται in Classical Greek).

Thomas and his men fought in the English invasion of Scotland in 1545 and in an attack on Boulogne-sur-Mer, in France, in 1546. In one action, his 550 men ambushed some 1,000 Frenchmen, killing 360, at a loss of only 35 Greeks. This was recorded by Nikandros Noukios, Νίκανδρος Νούκιος (or Andronikos, Ἀνδρόνικος) of Corfu, Κέρκυρα (an inhabitant is a Κερκυραῖος) on a diplomatic mission from Venice, who has Thomas delivering a Periclean sort of speech, exhorting his men. Since Noukios returned to Italy, we have no certain information about the rest of the life of Thomas.

The English Varangians, 1066 AD

Nova Anglia in the Crimea

Written Out of History

As noted above, before the time of the English Varangians, relations of their Norman conquerors had themselves briefly served the Emperor Michael IV. Two of the original de Hauteville brothers from Normandy were in a group of 300 Normans under George Maniaces in Italy in 1037-1038. The eldest de Hauteville brother, William, earns his sobriquet "Iron Arm" by defeating the Amir of Syracuse in single combat in 1037.

The disaffection and defection of the Normans, and their transformation of one of the Lombard revolts (1040), such as Romania had previously been able to defeat, would then drive Romania out of Italy by 1071, spelling the final alienation of Italy, retrieved by Belisarius in 536, from Constantinople (after 535 years) -- but then it also led to the recovery of Sicily from ʾIslām (1061-1091), specifically from the Zirid Amirs of Tunisia, and the reunion of all Southern Italy into one Kingdom (1130). This brought the South of Italy into the history of Francia for the first time -- in the 13th century, under the German Emperor Frederick II, it could even be said to briefly be the center of that history, as Frederick made Palermo his capital.

Catastrophe. The heartland of the Empire in Anatolia is completely overrun. Italy is lost to the Normans, forever. Only the Balkan European possessions, secured not long before, enable Romania to endure and recover, somewhat -- with the dangerous help of the Crusaders. Armenians, recently settled in Cilicia, are surrounded, although this will be the origin of the Kingdom of Lesser Armenia that will endure until 1375. The triumphant Normans meanwhile have invaded Sicily, which they will permanently recover from ʾIslām.

Süleyman I ibn Qutalmısh1078-1086
interregnum, 1086-1092
Kilij (Qılıch) Arslan I1092-1107
Malik Shāh1107-1116
Masʿūd I Rukn ad-Dīn1116-1156
Kilij Arlsan II1156-1192
Myriocephalon, 1176; Konya sacked by Frederick Barbarossa on the Third Crusade, 1190
Kay Khusraw (Khosru) I1192-1196,
killed in battle by Theodore Lascaris, 1211
Süleyman II1196-1204
Kilij Arlsan III ʿIzz ad-Dīn1204-1205
Kay Kāwūs I1211-1220
Kay Qubādh I ʿAlāʾ ad-Dīn1220-1237
Kay Khusraw II Ghiyāth ad-Dīn1237-1246,
Defeated by Mongols, Battle of Köse Dagh, becomes vassal, 1243
Kay Kāwūs II1246-1257
Kilij Arslan IV1248-1265
Kay Qūbādh II1249-1257
Kay Khosru III Ghiyāth ad-Dīn1265-1282
Control by Mongol
Governors, 1277
Masʿūd II1282-1284,
Kay Qūbādh III1284, 1293-1294,
Masʿūd III1307
Deposed by Mongols, 1307
The first Turkish and Moslem state in Anatolia ironically began against the wishes, virtually in rebellion against, the
Seljuk Great Sulṭān Malik Shāh (1073-1092), who was even negotiating with Alexius Comnenus for the withdrawal of the Turks from the region and whose troops actually killed Süleyman I. However, even the Great Sulṭān was finally in no position to force such a withdrawal, Roman resistance was so weak that Süleyman had no difficulty establishing his capital at Nicaea, and all help from the Seljuks ended with the death of Malik Shāh. The best that Alexius could do was to recover Nicomedia and hold on to it. Meanwhile, even western cities like Ephesus were falling. The Sulṭāns then styled themselves the rulers of Rūm, i.e. "Romania."

This list is from Clifford Edmund Bosworth's The New Islamic Dynasties [Edinburgh University Press, 1996].

While this is the traditional understanding of the role of Süleyman, a very different interpretation is now offered by Peter Frankopan [The First Crusade, The Call from the East, Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2012]. In these terms, Süleyman was the ally of Alexius Comnenus who maintained the Roman position in Asia Minor and was the duly appointed governor, not the conqueror, of Nicaea. This explains some other puzzling aspects of the reign of Alexius, which is where the Turkish mercenaries came from that he used against the Normans in the Balkans, and why the Roman position in Anatolia seemed to suddenly collapse in the early 1090's (after the death of Malik Shāh), when everyone assumed that it had already collapsed after Manzikert, before Alexius even came to the throne. Süleyman was killed, not by forces loyal to Malik Shāh, but by the very rebels that he, Alexius, and Malik Shāh were all attempting to suppress. Süleyman was even upbraided by his enemies for disloyalty to ʾIslām.

While this thesis explains a lot, it leaves a number of things on the table. The role of Süleyman and the presence of the rebels, who were troubling to all, does mean that there is a substantial Turkish presence in Anatolia after Manzikert, so the traditional picture of many Turks overrunning the area cannot be entirely abandoned. That Alexius was able to form alliances with Turkish forces, including the Seljuk Sulṭān himself and now perhaps Süleyman also, bespeaks a clever strategic and diplomatic accommodation to the situation, which maintained the Roman position for some years; but it also means that with the removal of Alexius's allies, that position could collapse quickly.

Süleyman's own son, Kilij Arslan, had been kept hostage by Malik Shāh (either against the good behavior of Süleyman or, perhaps more likely, because of the non-cooperative attitude of Kilij Arslan himself). With the death of the Sulṭān, he escaped and made his way to Nicaea, to assume the authority of his father, but this time independently of both Emperor and Sulṭān -- his later treaty with Alexius did not mean any compromise to the independence of Rūm that had now been established.

The rapid collapse of Anatolian Romania thus testifies to the leverage that the Turkish presence in Anatolia had already created. Without help, Alexius could hold little beyond Nicomedia in the whole area -- although some Christian towns were still holding out when the Crusaders arrived, most dramatically and durably with the Armenians in Cilicia, where the domain outlasted the Sulṭanate of Rūm itself. Frankopan explains that the traditional picture of Roman collapse in Anatolia was due to Anna Comnena, who wanted to make it look like the losses in the regions were due to the predecessors of Alexius and were not events of his own reign.

The Turkish position was secure until defeat by the First Crusade in 1097. Then Alexius was able to recover the western cities. The Turks fell back on Iconium (Konya), which became their capital for the rest of the history of the Sultanate of Rūm. Although sacked by Frederick Barbarosa on the Third Crusade (1190), Konya was lost forever to Romania.

The Sultanate already, however, seemed to have lost its edge. The devastating defeat of Manuel Comnenus at Myriocephalum (1176) was not followed up, and the subsequent decline of Romania was mainly from internal weakening and fragmentation (readying it for the Fourth Crusade). The Sultanate was then defeated by the Mongols in 1243 and spent the rest of its history in vassalage. The final fall, in 1307, coincided with a very fragmented, but vigorous, period of new Turkish states -- the Oghullar, (أُوغُلَّر), or "sons" of Rūm. Part of his vigor may have resulted from an influx of refugees from the Mongols. The Beys of Aydın captured Ephesus in 1304, but the most serious portent for the future was the capture of Prusa (Bursa) in 1326 by the Ottomans. This quickly spelled the end of Romania in Asia, and by 1354 the Ottomans had a foothold in Europe. Only Tamerlane delayed the ultimate Ottoman conquest.

A curious feature of the relationship of Constantinople to the Sulṭāns of Rūm was its often cordial and almost friendly tone. Alexius Comnenus employed Turkish mercenaries and once, when he happened to capture the ḥarīm of the Sulṭān, he promptly returned the women with his apologies. As I have noted, this sort of relationship to the Turks may have begun with in the early days with Süleyman I. To the Crusaders, these dealings with the Infidel were surest proof of Greek duplicity and treachery.

What was going on, however, is illuminated by a comment of Kenneth W. Harl [in his video lectures, The World of Byzantium, for The Teaching Company, 2001] and by the description of Byzantine strategy and diplomacy in The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, by Edward N. Luttwak [Belknap, Harvard University Press, 2009]. Harl's comment was that Alexius saw the Turks as a new Bulgaria, which could be Christianized, domesticated, and then absorbed into the Empire, just as Bulgaria had been. This is consistent with the strategy described by Luttwak, one of whose key points was that the Empire did not aim at the extermination of its enemies, as the Rome of Trajan might have done.
The Oghullar of Rūm
Aydın Oghulları
Sarukhān Oghulları
Menteshe Oghulları
Germiyān Oghulları
Ḥamīd Oghulları
Tekke Oghulları
Jāndār Oghulları
Qaramān Oghulları
Eretna Oghulları
Dulghadır Oghulları
Osmanlı Oghulları
This was:

  1. Too difficult and exhausting given the reduced power of Romania,

  2. Dangeorus when a battle could be lost as well as won, with hell to pay, and

  3. Futile when the elimination of one enemy would simply open the door for the next enemy in the queue, who is liable to be more aggressive and more alien than the previous one.

Thus, while Anatolia had not been overrun in quite the same way before, the Balkans had. Over centuries, the inundation of the Slavs, Avars, and Bulgars had gradually been overcome and absorbed, with decisive military action only at the end. Premature attempts in that form, as in the days of Nicephorus I, had been disasters. And there was nothing new about the Turks. Romania had found good allies in the Turkish Khazars for three centuries, and we have seen Emperors marry Khazar women. Alexius knew that the Empire was in a bad way, but that had happened before. All it would take was patience.

And Alexius would have some reason for hope. There had been Turkish converts to Christianity, even groups of them, who had come over to the Empire. After the First Crusade had driven the Seljuks back from their high water mark, the borders began to settle and they did not seem to pose the same kind of threat. Diplomacy and familiarity could begin to work their magic.

Unfortunately, there were some features of the situation that told against the traditional strategy. The Turks were, indeed, recent converts to ʾIslām, but nevertheless this already gave them the sort of sophisticated religious system that the Slavs and Bulgars had not possessed. Christianity did not represent sophistication and civilization in comparison to ʾIslām as it had to the others. Also, religious influence continued to arrive from the central Islāmic lands, while Christian proslytizing was not tolerated.

Roman and Christian culture thus had less of a chance of domesticating the Turkish threat. Indeed, the Bulgars themselves had not been entirely assimilated and were not regarded as "Romans" either by the Romans or by themselves. The potential for Bulgarian revival was great and would eventually come to pass. Most importantly, there were subsequent waves of Turkish immigration, reinvigorating the Turkish presence.

The Mongols were bumping more Turks off the steppe just as the Huns had originally bumped inconvenient numbers of Germans into the Empire centuries earlier. But the Turks were both too strong and too weak. The Seljuks of Rūm were complacent enough that they took no real advantage of Manuel's defeat at Myriocelphum (a premature Roman push), but then they were staggered and subjugated by the Mongol defeat in 1243. This meant that the new waves of arriving Turks ended up creating new, vigorous states, the Oghullar, with whom domestication would need to start all over again, instead of being absorbed into a durable and familiar state of Rūm.

Figures like John Cantacuzenus did try to start over again, even intermarrying with the Ottomans, but by then the situation of the Empire was so diminished (with the Bulgars, Vlachs, and Serbs going their own way), and that of the Turks so enhanced (still driven by undiminished Islāmic Jihād), that there was little chance left for things to go over time as they had with the Bulgars. Instead, it was the Turks who subdued, overwhelmed, and absorbed Romania.


Alexius I Comnenus
called Kirjalax in Icelandic; trade concession to Venice, defeat by Normans at Dyrrhachium, 1081; Embassy to China? 1081; Normans defeated at Larissa, 1083; Embassy to China, 1091; appeal to Robert II of Flanders & Pope Urban II, 1095; First Crusade, 1096-1099; entertains Eric I of Denmark, who addresses Danish Varangians, 1103; Statue of Constantine falls from Porphyry Column, now the "Burnt" Column, in the Forum of Constantine during a storm, 5 April 1106; Siege of Dyrrhachium, Normans repulsed, 1107–1108, Antioch becomes vassal, 1108; Seljuks defeated at Philomelium, 1116
John II, "the Good," ὁ Καλοϊωάννης1118-1143
Defeats Pechenegs, Battle of Beroë in 1122; captures Leon I of Armenia, 1137

Manuel I
Second Crusade, 1147-1149; unsuccessful campaign in Italy by Michael Palaeologus, 1155-1156; homage of Thoros II of Armenia, Reynald of Antioch, & Baldwin III of Jerusalem, 1158-1159; enters Antioch, 1159; Kilij Arslan II visits Constantinople, 1161; secures Dalmatia, Croatia, & Bosnia, 1167; all Venetians arrested in Romania, 1171; defeat by Kilij Arlsan II, Myriocephalum, 1176
Alexius II1180-1183
Serbia independent, 1180; Bela III takes Dalmatia, Bosnia, & Sirmium

Andronicus I
jure uxoris

Isaac Comnenus
Emperor on Cyprus, 1185-1191
With the
Turks at Nicaea (whether relatively friendly or hostile, as discussed above), the Normans ready to land in the west, the currency debased, the army dispersed, and the treasury empty, Alexius Comnenus had his job cut out for him. The results were satisfactory enough, but a couple of the desperate measures that the desperate times called for would have unfortunate long term consequences. The trade privileges given to Venice in 1082 eventually made Roman trade, and even the Navy, the plaything of Italian city states. Calling on the West for military aid against the Turks had the very unexpected result of Pope Urban II calling in 1095 for a "Crusade" to liberate the Holy Land and Jerusalem from ʾIslām.

It is usually said that Alexius wrote a letter to the Pope asking for aid and that this inspired Urban to call for the Crusade. We also have a letter that Alexius is supposed to have written to Count Robert II of Flanders, whose father, Robert I, had recently (1089) been on pilgrmage to Jerusalem and evidently developed a relationship with Alexius on the way.

Historians have been suspicious of the received text of the letter to Robert, but the problem may be the good Latin of the letter and its reference to losses to the Turks in Anatolia. Since the letter apparently dates from around 1093, the losses, which were thought to have occurred earlier, sound anachronistic. However, Peter Frankopan has recently argued that the situation in Anatolia actually did not deteriorate badly until that point, so that there is no anachronism in the letter [The First Crusade, The Call from the East, Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2012, p.60] -- its Latin would just be a function of competent translators in Constantinople.

As it happened, Alexius developed a better relationship with Robert II than with most of the Crusaders on the First Crusade. Robert I had already sent Alexius 500 Flemish knights, who fought in Anatolia and in the Balkans for the Emperor. When Robert II passed through Constantinople on the way home from Jerusalem in 1099, Alexius bestowed on him a relic that was supposed to be an arm of St. George.

This special relationship between Constantinople and Flanders foreshadows, sadly, the later election of Count Baldwin IX of Flanders as Latin Emperor after the Fourth Crusade takes the City in 1204 -- "sadly" because the friendship with Alexius was replaced by the hostile conquest of his descendants, the Angeli, while the tenure and the fate of the Flemish in Constantinople was not edifying.

Most of the Crusaders passing through Constantinople gave Alexius a very bad feeling. The possibility of what actually happened a century later, when the Fourth Crusade took Constantinople, was already very real. So Alexius bundled them as quickly as possible into Asia, where they defeated the Turks, making it possible to drive them out of western Anatolia together.

This was of great material help to Romania, but the Turks remained based at Iconium (Konya). The Roman Army (with the thematic apparatus long gone) was never up to the task of dislodging them entirely. That this could have been done was revealed when Frederick Barbarosa, passing through on the Third Crusade, broke into Konya and sacked it (1190). That he died shortly thereafter steals the thunder from this act, but it is noteworthy.

Meanwhile, the greatest military successes of the Comneni, by Manuel I, when his suzerainty was acknowledged by Lesser Armenia, Antioch, and even Jerusalem, were undone by a devastating defeat in 1176 at Myriocephalum ("Ten Thousands Heads"). Shortly thereafter Serbia breaks away, beginning a process of disintegration that would never be entirely reversed.

The Chinese Embassies of 1081 and 1091

The Chinese History of the [Northern & Southern] Sung, 宋史, Sòngshǐ, says that an Embassy arrived from 拂菻, Fúlǐn in 1081. Whether this had been sent by Alexius Comnenus or by earlier Emperors is hard to determine. It seems like they all would have been a bit too distracted by events to be worrying about missions to China, and Alexius certainly had his hands full in the first year of his reign.

The name given for the Emperor who sent this embassy in Chinese is 滅力伊靈改撒, Mièlìyīlìnggǎisā. This is a bit hard to grasp with an unusually large number of six characters. However, if we recognize the last two, 改撒, gǎisā, as Caesar, then what remains is more manageable. Even then, it is a little hard to match. Mièlìyīlìng is generally thought to be a rendering of the name of Michael VII Ducas Parapinakes. An objection there is that he was deposed in 1078, three years before the embassy arrived in China.

It is possible, however, that it could well have taken that long to accomplish the mission. And if we recognize that the mission may have been complicated by the absence now of the friendly Khazars, who had been broken by the Russians in 969, serious delays can be imagined. Nevertheless, if the mission was able to return after 1081, it would have arrived at the Court of Alexius Comnenus. And, if another Embassy was received in 1091, as the Chinese say, that can only have been sent by Alexius. Again, there are no surviving Roman records of such contacts [note].

The Letter of the Hung-wu Emperor

Varangians and Englishmen under the Comneni

The Englishmen in the Varangian Guard of Alexius I were not able to escape their Norman nemesis. At the battle of Dyrrhachium in 1082, where Normans from Sicily under Robert Guisgard de Hauteville were trying to establish a beachhead in what is now Albania, a promising start turned into a rout of the Roman army, with many of the English Varangians, who had advanced impetuously beyond the rest of the army, slaughtered by the Normans.

Nevertheless, despite this painful setback, and some others, Alexius finally was able to win the war and, with the help of the Venetians and even Seljuks, eject the Normans. The death of Guisgard in 1085 ended the threat, as the Normans otherwise concentrated on recovering Sicily from ʾIslām -- though there was no love lost when Guisgard's son Bohemond passed through Constantinople on the First Crusade (he then became the first Prince of Antioch, violating an agreement to return the city to Romania).

According to Raffaele D'Amato [op.cit., p.10], after the defeat of Manuel I at Myriocephalum in 1176 and considerable losses there to the Varangians,
Letters from Emperors
about English Varangians
Manuel IHenry II1176
Michael VIIIHenry III?1272
John VIIHenry IV1402
some English Varangians went home with a letter from the Emperor to King Henry II of England, saying, "We have also felt it a pleasure that it so happened that some of the chief men of your nobility were with us, who will, at your desire, inform you on all the circumstances [of the battle]."

One thing this record demonstrates is that English recruits to the Guard were no longer merely dispossessed Saxons. Some "chief men" of Henry's own Norman nobility were drawn to the Guard. Indeed, there is direct evidence of this in a letter that St. Anslem (d.1109), of all people, wrote to a young Norman knight named William who was thinking of joining the Guard. His brother had already done so, and Anslem wanted William to become a monk. There is even a report that a "recuitment bureau" existed in London for the Guard [cf. Peter Frankopan, op.cit., p.87, reference to "Les Sceaux byzantins de Londres" by J.C. Cheynet, 2003]. We may reflect that even if William did join the Guard, he could not have lived long enough to have been at Myriocephalum, but he might have known Alexius I.

This is why the tradition went on for centuries, long after 1066. Anthony Kaldellis says that the letter to Henry II is "a source has has been underutilized by modern historians" [Ethnography After Antiquity, Foreign Lands and Peoples in Byzantine Literature, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013, p.29]. Indeed, multiple standard Byzantine histories do not even mention it.

Even better, we hear about the letter from a contemporary, Gerald of Wales, who recounts how King Henry responded to Manuel's inquiries "about the geographical conditions, way of life, and things worth seeing in the island of Britain" [ibid.]. Gerald apparently contributed information about Wales to the response. Asking about "things worth seeing" seems like a much more Modern, rather than Mediaeval, sort of curiosity.

"The body of Leo V is dragged to the Hippodrome through the Skyla Gate," Varangian Guard watching, Joannis Scylitzae Synopsis Historiarum, Madrid Skylitzis, Codex Matritensis Graecus, Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid

Norse recruits to the Varangian Guard continued as Alexius entertained Scandinavian monarchs on Crusade or pilgrimage, particularly the Kings Eric I the Evergood of Denmark and Sigurð I the Crusader of Norway. Alexius at first distrusted Eric, as he did all the Crusaders, and had him camp outside Constantinople. We are told, however, that his spies reported Eric urging the Danish Varangians to serve the Emperor faithfully. Eric was then invited into the City and honored -- at least according to the Norse sources. Unfortunately, the pious King never made it to Jerusalem but died and was buried on Cyprus.

Alexius is remembered in the Icelandic Sagas as Kirjalax, evidently from Kyrios Alexios, "Lord Alexius." The name was also used, confusingly, for subsequent Comneni. The positive reputation of Alexius in Scandinavia thus stands in noteworthy contrast to what it became in Latin Western Europe, where the conflicts of the First Crusade resulted in a smear campaign against Alexius on behalf of some of the Crusaders, particularly Bohemond of Antioch, who wanted to put his own machinations in the best light. Bohemond was successful in that and became widely regarded as the principle hero of the First Crusade, even though he had dropped out and failed to accompany the Crusaders to the capture of Jerusalem. A remarkable, if ironic, public relations triumph.

In Manuel I's day, in 1153, we get recruits to the Varangian Guard from the Crusading force of the Earl of Orkney. Raffaele D'Amato says [op.cit. p.14] that the Earl, coming by sea, had six of his 15 ships split off at Gibraltar and go to Constantinople. D'Amato does not say which Earl of Orkney this was. That is a problem, since there were two Earls, cousins Ragnald III (1137-1158) and Harald II the Old (1139-1206), ruling simultaneously. I suspect that the Earl in question was Ragnald III, since we find Ragnald's more closely related cousin, Erlend III, becoming Earl in 1154 (1154-1156). This looks like something that would happen while Ragnald was away on Crusade.

This speculation is confirmed by The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens [op.cit., pp.453-455], where Erlend III took advantage of Ragnald III's absence on Crusade to usurp his domain, with the permission of King Eystein III of Norway (the suzerain of Orkney at the time). Harald II withstood this move, but when Eystein III bestowed the entire County on Erlend, because Harald had been appointed by Ragnald without Royal permission, Erlend was able to eject Harald. Ragnald then returned from Crusade in 1155; and he and Harald combined forces to defeat and kill Erlend.

The Mammoth Book does not mention any of Ragnald's men joining the Varangian Guard; but it does say that, returning from Palestine, Ragnald wintered in Constantinople, visiting the Emperor Manuel. If D'Amato is right, that six of Ragnald's ships left at Gibraltar to join the Guard, it does not sound like there would have been much hard feeling, for the Earl to be a guest of Manuel later on.

Ῥέων ὁ χρόνος ἀκάθεκτα καὶ ἀεί τι κινούμενος παρασύρει καὶ παραφέρει πάντα τὰ ἐν γενέσει καὶ ἐς βυθὸν ἀφανείας καταποντοῖ ὅπου μὲν οὐκ ἄξια λόγου πράγματα, ὅπου δὲ μεγάλα τε καὶ ἄξια μνήμης, καὶ τά τε ἄδηλα φύων κατὰ τὴν τραγῳδίαν καὶ τὰ φανέντα κρυπτόμενος. ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γε λόγος ὁ τῆς ἱστορίας ἔρυμα καρτερώτατον γίνεται τῷ τοῦ χρόνου ῥεύματι καὶ ἵστησι τρόπον τινὰ τὴν ἀκάθεκτον τούτου ῥοὴν καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτῷ γινόμενα πάντα, ὁπόσα ὑπερείληφε, ξυνέχει καὶ περισφίγγει καὶ οὐκ ἐᾷ διολισθαίνειν εἰς λήθης βυθούς.

The stream of Time, irresistible, ever moving, carries off and bears away all things that come to birth and plunges them into utter darkness, both deeds of no account and deeds which are mighty and worthy of commemoration; as the playwright [Sophocles] says, it "brings to light that which was unseen and shrouds from us that which was manifest." Nevertheless, the discourse of History is a great bulwark against the stream of Time; in a way it checks this irresistible flood, it holds in a tight grasp whatever it can seize floating on the surface and will not allow it to slip away into the depths of Oblivion [Λήθη].

Anna Comnena, The Alexiad, translated by E.R.A. Sewter [Penguin Classics, 1969, p.17]; Greek text, Annae Comnenae, Alexias, Pars Prior, Prolegomena et Textus, Diether R. Reinsch and Athanasios Kambylis [Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co, Berlin, 2001, p.5].

Anna Comnena, Ἄννα Κομνηνή (1083–1153), daughter of Alexius I, wrote a history of her father's reign, the Alexiad. I was long under the impression that the Alexiad made Anna the first woman historian. She certainly has that honor in the West -- except for Pamphile of Epidaurus, Παμφίλη ἣ Ἐπιδαυρία, from the 1st Century AD, whose works have been lost, although she is still cited by Photius. However, the surviving anonymous Tractatus de mulieribus claris in bello, "Treatise on Women Famous in War," may actually be hers.

I now discover that there was a woman historian earlier than Anna in China. Pan Chao (班昭, Pinyin Bān Zhāo) completed the great History of the Former Han Dynasty, (漢書), after her brother, Pan Ku (班固, Bān Gù), was arrested and died in prison, leaving the work incomplete. This was during the Later Han Dynasty, a thousand years before Anna. Since Pan Chao's other brother, Pan Ch'ao (班超, Bān Chāo), commissioned an embassy to Rome in 97 AD, unfortunately unsuccessful, we do have a tenuous historial link between the two women.

One traditional view is that most of the Alexiad was written after Anna was banished to a convent by her brother, John II, whom she had tried to have assassinated in a conspiracy with her husband, Nicephorus Bryennius. This particularly intense form of sibling rivalry was supposedly the result of Anna's expectation that she would be closer to the seat of power, i.e. that the Emperor would be her husband, who was himself the son or grandson of an elder Nicephorus Bryennius -- who had been defeated and blinded in a rebellion against Michael VII by no less than Alexius Comnenus, the father of Anna. The birth of John spoiled this, and Anna, perhaps a feminist before her time, never accepted the wisdom of his succession.

However, this whole picture may be based on no more than the hostility for the Comneni of the later historian Nicetas Choniates (1155/57-1217), and a misogynistic animus against Anna, magnified and further distorted by modern historians. The evidence is examined in detail by Leonora Neville (Anna Komnene, the Life & Work of a Medieval Historian), and contemporary references to Anna apparently rule out any conspiracy, any participation in such a thing by her, or even any antipathy between Anna and John. The convent were Anna had apartments, part of a monastic complex, was established by Anna's mother, with a view to its occasional use by the Imperial family. Anna was not confined there, and the same privileges were inherited by her daughter Irene. Nicephorus commanded armies for John, something that never would have been allowed had he been suspected of disloyalty [note].

Nevertheless, Anna seems to have blamed John for subsequent disasters to the Empire; but, since the Alexiad doesn't cover his reign, she never quite says what these disasters were. The real disaster, the battle of Myriocephalum, happened after her death to her nephew, Manuel I. But we can tell what Anna didn't like about the policies of John and Manuel, which had become increasingly involved with the Crusaders. Thus, Choniates had something to work with for his hostility, since relations were sometimes tense between the siblings -- especially when their brother Issac, who had been made a Sebastocrator, actually revolted against John in 1130. With no success, Issac and his sons wandered around among the Turks and others before being reconciled, although Isaac's son John Tzelepes ultimately defected to the Turks and converted to Islam -- there was even a later legend that the Ottomans were his descendants. Isaac's son Andronicus later became one of the most hated Emperors ever.

One reference to the Alexiad that I remember from childhood reading, that Anna says her father didn't trust the Crusaders because they didn't have beards and smelled of horses, I have been unable to find in the text. But there is no doubt that Anna did not trust the Crusaders herself, and that she rather hoped for better relations with the Seljuks.

This overlooked the durable circumstance that it was the Seljuks who had overrun most of Anatolia, and that it was the Crusaders whose campaign allowed for the recovery of as much Seljuk territory as would be recovered. Even the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, which we could say vindicated Anna's fears, nevertheless looks more a matter of the folly of Alexius IV, with unrealistic promises, drawing in an opportunistic and unprincipled Venice. The Crusaders were no more than the pawns of Venice in its own game. It is not clear that Anna Comnena ever perceived Venice to pose the kind of threat that it did.

A striking name in the genealogy is George Palaeologus, who married the sister, Anna Ducaena, of the Empress Irene Ducaena. This is the first occurrence of a Palaeologus I know of. See his relationship to the rest of the Palaeologi in the diagram below.

A noteworthy feature here is the rule of Isaac Comnenus (who wasn't actually a patrilineal Comnenus) on Cyprus. Isaac had been a prisoner of the Armenians, but was released and end up marrying an anonymous Armenian princess. From there, in the confusion at the fall of Andronicus I (1185), he seized control of Cyprus. There he proved to be a vicious and rapacious ruler.

These habits did not serve him well when a ship with the wife (Berengaria of Navarre) and sister (Joanna, Queen of Sicily, recently widowed) of King Richard I of England, on his way to the Third Crusade, was wrecked, and Isaac seized the women. Consequently, Richard landed on Cyprus and overthrew and captured Isaac (1191), giving the island to the recently disposessed King of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan (1192).

Richard held Isaac and his family with him, all the way until Richard was captured by Leopold V of Austria (1177-1194, whose mother was an Angelina), whom Richard had insulted on the Crusade by removing his colors from Acre, after its fall. The deal to ransom and release Richard also included releasing Isaac, and his unnamed daughter, the Domicella, "Damsel of Cyrpus" -- thought possibily to be named "Beatrice" or "Maria." Isaac ended up poisoned, apparently among the Turks of Rūm, in 1195 or 1196. The daughter, however, briefly married Raymond VI, the Count of Toulouse (1194-1215, 1218-1222), after Richard's sister Joanna had already married him (and died, 1199).

The Toulouse marriage was annulled, perhaps because the "Damsel" wouldn't convert to the Latin rite (i.e. Roman Catholicism). She then married an illegitimate son of Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders (1157-1191), named Dietrich/Thierry. The "Damsel" and Dietrich sailed to Cyprus on the Fourth Crusade in 2002 (the part that didn't go to Constantinople), with some hope of reclaiming the island. That failed. The couple went on to Lesser Armenia in the reign of Leo I, and then they turned up at Constantinople, by the latest in 1207, with the other Crusaders. The last we hear of Thierry is on a raid against Bulgaria in 1207.

For the Damsel, this sounds like a fairly eventful life for someone whose about whose name we are not certain. Despite references to "Beatrice," etc., she may have had an Armenian name, from her mother, that puzzled chroniclers.

Marriages of the Comneni

From the few and often questionable foreign marriages of the Macedonians, with the Comneni we find a large number of well attested ones, many with Crusaders but one making connections as distant as Spain. I was aware of few of these until a correspondent, Ann Ferland, began to point them out. The marriage of Maria of Montpellier, whose mother was Eudocia Comnena, to King Peter II of Aragon led to all subsequent Kings of Aragon and of Spain. A great deal of European Royalty, right down to the present, thus would be descendants of Alexius I Comnenus.

The surge of foreign marriages under the Comneni were from a number of causes and motivations. Thus, we are simply in an era where travel and trade are opening up and Romania gets drawn in, inevitably, to the royal and aristocratic marriages that were already common in Western Europe. Such marriages, which we can see all the way back to the Antonines and the Tetrarchy, were to cement alliances and engender sympathy and loyalties. Both of the Emperor Manuel's marriages were to foreigners, when, a couple centuries earlier, Roman Emperors were hestitant to marry any foreigners, who were usually seen as barbarians. Those days are gone.

However, these practices would tend to have effects that were the opposite of the intention. Thus, both Nicetas Choniates and Anthony Kaldellis have said that the foreign marriages arranged by the Comneni both tempted rebellious princes to seek foreign support and tempted foreign princes who were in-laws to intervene in Roman affairs -- without sympathy or loyalty [The New Roman Empire, Oxford, 2024, pp.725-726]. This is the source of much of the hostility of Choniates for the Comneni:

εἴ τι γοῦν αἰτιώτατον τοῦ τὴν Ῥωμαίων ἀρχὴν ἐς γόνυ καταπεσεῖν καὶ χωρῶν καὶ πόλεων χειρώσεις παθεῖν, ὕστατα δὲ καὶ αὐτὴν ἐξαπολωλέναι, τοῦτο οἱ ἐκ Κομνηνῶν γεγόνασιν ἀφιστάμενοι καὶ βασιλειῶντες· παρὰ γὰρ ἔθνεσι καταλύοντες μὴ φίλια Ῥωμαίοις νοοῦσι τῆς πατρίδος ἦσαν πανώλεια, καίπερ ἐν τῷ παρ᾽ ἡμῖν μένειν πράγμασιν ἐγχειρήσειν ἑλεῖν τε καὶ κρατήσειν ἀνεπιτηδειότατοι ὄντες καὶ πάντων ἀχρειότατοι καὶ σκαιότατοι.

It was the Komnenos family that was the major cause of the desruction of the empire; because of their ambitions and their rebellions, she suffered the subjugation of provinces and cities and finally fell to ther knees. These Komnenoi, who sojourned among the [barbarian] nations hostile to the Romans, were the utter ruin of their country, and whenever they attempted to seize and hold sway over our public affairs, they were the most inept, unfit, and stupid of men. [Greek text, Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, consilio B.B. Niebuhrii C.F., Academiae Litterarum Regiae Borussicae, Nicetas Choniata, Bonn, 1835; O City of Byzantium, Annals of Niketas Choniatēs, translated by Harry J. Magoulias, Wayne State University Press, 1984, p.290 -- "barbarian" not in Greek text]

Choniates and Kaldellis discern that keeping power among Comneni relatives both cut off traditional sources of talent from the provinces, creating resentment, disaffection, and rebellion there, and encouraged disloyalty and rebellion within the Comneni dynasty itself. The regency and then tyranny of Andronicus I, massacring Alexius II and his near kin, spelled the extinction of the Comneni much as it had among the Julio-Claudians. This weakened the State even as foreign in-laws were tempted to seize power for themselves. The elements of this dynamic can be seen leading to the disaster of the Fourth Crusade.

The presence of the Venetians and the web of foreign marriages both attest to closer ties and increasing traffic, and not just of Crusaders, between Constantinople and the West. For instance, the Emperor Manuel (1143-1180) made a gift of a copy of Ptolemy's Almagest to King William I (1154-1166) of Naples and Sicily. This apparently was conveyed on a diplomatic mission by Henricus Aristippus (d.c.1162), who saw to the translation of the work, while he himself tried his hand at translating the Meno and Phaedo.

The manuscript of the Almagest was inherited by Charles of Anjou, who then donated his library to the Papacy in 1266. The modern Vatican Library was not founded until 1475, and previous collections were often dispersed -- in particular, I suspect, during the move of the Papacy to Avignon. Thus, the manuscript of the Almagest subsequently ended up in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice.

While interest in Greek and in doing translations may not be too surprising in the South of Italy, we see the first signs of it further north. Thus, James of Venice (c.1130/70) and Burgundio of Pisa (c.1110-1193) acquired manuscripts, traveled to Constantinople, and began turning out translations. This is still 300 years before the Renaissance proper, when such activities went into high gear, with much greater interest, Greek refugees, and the aid of the printing press. People like Burgundio and their pioneering efforts thus tend to be forgotten, but the later work probably owes them a debt that is now hard to estimate.

While the acquisition of Greek texts and translation work continued into the 13th century, with the added opportunties of looting and purchase after the Fourth Crusade, my suspicion is that it was all inhibited by the Black Death in the 14th century. That created a hiatus during which it was sometimes forgotten that libraries even held Greek texts, which were then "discovered" in the 15th century. Thus, a single manuscript of the Secret History of Procopius was "discovered" in the Vatican Library and published in 1623, but we have no idea how it got there.

Omens of Decline

On April 5, 1106, an event of serious ill omen occurred. The statue of Constantine I that had stood on a porphyry column in his Forum since the founding of the City, fell off in a storm. We have an account of this from The Patria description of Constantinople, associated with the appearance of a comet, which was also considered a thing of ill omen:

This statue fell from the column and caused the death of the men and women who happened to be there, about ten in number, on the fifth of April of the fourteenth indiction, in the year [Anno Mundi] 6614 (1106), the twentieth year of the reign of the lord Alexios Komnenos... About the third hour, it became dark and a violent southern wind blew fiercely, for a comet, which is called the Spear, had caused this turbulence of the air. It appeared in the evening of the Friday of the first week, on the ninth of February of the fourteenth indiction, in the year 6614, and then stayed. [Accounts of Medieval Constantinople, The Patria, translated by Albercht Berger, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Harvard University Press, 2013, p.27]

Apparently, no attempt was ever made to restore or replace the statue, and the fate of its remains is unknown. The column stands until today, now with iron brands around it, and with the appearance of having been once burned, which is now the name by which it is known -- the "Burnt Column," or otherwise the Çemberlitaş ("Stone with Hoops"). The loss of his central monument of the City even now has a ring of downfall to it, although the city will endure, in reduced circumstances, for another three and a half centuries.

We have already seen how the Ottomans would destroy the great statue and column of Justinian. Meanwhile, other Greek sculptures, like the Wonder of the World statue of Zeus from Olympia, or the Aphrodite of Cnidus, had been destroyed by fire. Soon, we will hear how the Crusaders melted down bronze statues for the metal.

The great statue of Athena Promachus, Ἀθηνᾶ or Ἀθήνη Πρόμαχος, the "Foremost Fighter," at right, relocated from Athens, whose presence and placement is subject to some uncertainty and dispute, seems to have been torn down by the people of Constantinople themselves, as having beckoned to the Crusaders. We might interpret the loss of this icon, however, as another omen of decline. From this point, few will think of the Ῥωμαῖοι as among the "foremost fighters," with increasing reliance on mercenaries.

Of all the statuary recounted in The Patria, or any others it may have missed, none is left in İstanbul. Exactly where they all went -- if not to Venice, like the Porphyry Tetrarchs -- we can no longer say. The Ottomans erected no statues. That would have violated the prohibitions in ʾIslām of human representation. As such, they may have destroyed more statuary than just that of Justinian, itself only the most prominent. Thus, İstanbul is bereft of something, the artwork, that would have been a conspicuous feature of Constantinople. There is some Greek statuary in the İstanbul Archaeology Museum, but we don't see any of the old statues decorating the City. We don't get to see the crabs that were said to be in the hair of the statue of Thetis, Θέτις, the sea goddess mother of Achilles, in the Forum of Constantine. All gone.

Ruben I1080-1095
Constantine I1095-?
Prince, 1099;
First Crusade, 1096-1099
Theodore/Thoros I
Leon Ic.1129-1137
captured by John II, 1137;
dies in Constantinople
Thoros IIescaped, 1145;
homage to Manuel I, 1158
Ruben II1168-1175
Ruben III1175-1185
Leon/Levon II
the Great
Council of Tarsus, accepts Union with Rome, 1198
Philip of Antioch1205-?
son of Behemond IV of Antioch
Hethoum I
the Great
Leon III1270-1289
Hethoum II
the One-Eyed
Thoros III
Leon IV of Cyprus1305-1307
Council of Sis, accepts Union with Rome, 1307
Sempad &
Constantine II
Council of Adana, accepts Union with Rome, 1316
Leon V1320-1342
Constantine III,
Lord of Neghir
Guy Lusignan1342-1344
son of Amalric of Tyre,
King of Cyprus
Constantine IV1344-1363
Constantine V1363-1373
Leon VI1373-1375,
d. 1393
Kingdom falls to
Mamlūks, 1375
The Kingdom of Armenia in the Taurus Mountains of Cilicia is called "Lesser" Armenia in contrast to the "Greater Armenia" of the Armenian homeland to the northeast. After Nicephorus II Phocas recovered the area from the Arabs in 965 and ordered all Moslems to leave, Christians from Syria and Armenia were encouraged to settle and garrison the land. Nicephorus himself even welcomed "schismatic," Armenian Orthodox Monophysites from Armenia, but this tolerance would not always continue and some friction was inevitable between many Armenians and the Imperial (the, strictly speaking, "Roman Catholic") Church.

After the Seljuk breakthrough, more Armenians fled from the east, bringing the Patriarch with them, as the Turks overran Anatolia. The Armenians in the Taurus found themselves on their own and began organizing their own domains. When the Crusaders passed through, they were welcomed and aided. A daughter of Constantine I was married to Joscelin I, Count of Edessa, ushering in a long history of association and intermarriage between the Armenians and the Crusader states.

Indeed, Armenian nobility were the only group in the Levant that the Crusaders seemed to regard as equals and whom they married on equal terms. The Armenians began to adopt Frankish customs, including feudal law, dress, and knighthood. This made Lesser Armenia rather like a Crusader State itself, and so it is shown on the map. The urge to adopt the Latin Rite in the Armenian Church, and to seek union with Rome, was promoted by the Armenian Monarchy but fiercely resisted by the Church and the populace.

The history of Lesser Armenia puts to shame the antipathy in "liberal" opinion against the Crusades. The Armenians, surrounded and repeatedly attacked (until today) by militant ʾIslām, expose the hypocrisy of the anachronistic and tendentious characterization, by naive fools or vicious Lefists, of the Crusades as "imperialism," while Islamic Conquest, whether in the 7th century, the 11th, the 15th, or any other time, is itself ignored, rationalized, or excused.

This is a living and crucial issue in our own day of Islamic Terrorism, when the Left has in effect joined forces with Mediaeval savagery in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Libya, or Gaza -- and briefly Egypt -- in the Marxist cause of attacking capitalism and liberal democracy. Christians are under renewed attack in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Egypt; but the "liberal" press, which never worries much about the murder of Christians or Jews by Muslims, continues to ignore such developments.

This list of kings is mainly based on M. Chahin, The Kingdom of Armenia [Dorset Press, New York, 1987, 1991]. However, Steven Runciman, in his A History of the Crusades, Volume III, The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades [Cambridge, 1951, 1987], gives a more complete family tree, abstracted below. Runciman, maddeningly (but characteristically), gives not a single date; but he does give a number of figures who account for the numbering of the Constantines and Thoroses in the dynasty.

According to Chahin's list, these were not all reigning kings, but, even if not, they were numbered as members of the dynasty. Or they may have been co-regents unrecognized by Chahin. On the other hand, Constantine IV and V are not listed by Runciman in the dynastic tree because they were both usurpers. "Peter of Cyprus" listed by Chahin is Peter I of Cyprus. Constantine V offered him the throne but then decided to keep it for himself when Peter was assassinated. This information is supplemented by Warren Threadgold's A History of the Byzantine State and Society [Stanford, 1997]. Chahin fails to mention, for instance, the capture of Leon I and his sons (including Thoros II) by the Emperor John II Comnenus. On the other hand, while Runciman and Chahin agree that the early Rupenids were "princes," without a royal title until 1198, Threadgold says that they began calling themselves "kings" in 1099. Since none of them give the actual terms they were using, perhaps just in Armenian, it is hard to know why there is this disagreement.

Of greatest interest in the genealogy is when the house of Lesser Armenia makes reciprocal marriages with the Lusignan dynasty of Cyprus. This begins with the children of Leon III and Hugh III of Cyprus. Two sons and three daughters of Leon III married children of Hugh III. The result is that the succession of Lesser Armenia actually passes to to Lusignan. Such a close connection might have protected the Armenians, if Cyprus had been enough of a power to resist the Mamlūks, which, at least on land, it was not.

The Kingdom of Lesser Armenia was the last independent Armenian state until the former Soviet Republic of Armenia became independent in 1991.

As Armenians had relocated to Cilicia, so did the Patriarch of Armenia (in 1062). This line continued even after the fall of the Kingdom in 1375. In 1441, however, a new Patriarch was elected in Armenia. Sometimes it is said that the Patriarchate moved back to Armenia; but this is not true, since Patriarch Gregory IX (1439-1446) remained where he was, as Giragos (1441-1443) was installed in Armenia. The Cilician line continued, as it does down to the present, as the Great House of Cilicia. It relocated to Lebanon in 1930 because of continued attacks on Armenians in Turkey. As noted above, the Kings of Lesser Armenia promoted union with Rome, which was otherwise very unpopular. Six pro-Latin Patriarchs were assassinated; but there was still an Armenian delegation that accepted the union of the Churches at the Council of Florence in 1439. Eventually a Schism resulted, and in 1737 a line of Catholic Patriarchs began. By 1749, these Patriarchs were already seated in Lebanon, where the Maronite Church was already in communion with Rome.

The last King of Lesser Armenia, Leon VI of Lusignan, often cited as "Leon V," as he styled himself, fled to Spain and then France after the fall of the Kingdom in 1375 -- hoping to organize a force to restore Armenian rule. In Spain, he was actually made lord of Madrid, the future capital of Spain, and some other towns, by King John I of Castile. When John died in 1390, or perhaps earlier, in 1384, Leon moved on to France,
Saint-Denis, Île-de-France, basilique nécropole royale, gisant de Léon V de Lusignan, roi d'Arménie
where he was given a castle and a pension of King Charles VI. He hoped to negotiate an end to the Hundred Years War in order to organize an Crusade to free Armenia.

At his death in 1393, he was buried in the Couvent des Célestins. When the convent and graves there were desecrated by fanatics during the French Revolution, Leon's burial was destroyed; but afterwards his surviving, handsome grave monument was removed, with the remains of other royal burials, to Saint Denis. The title to the Kingdom of Lesser Armenia was claimed by Leon's cousin, King James I of Cyprus. Nothing could ever be done, of course, about recovering the Armenian Kingdom.

Historic Armenia Index

The Empire has recovered as much as it is ever going to, and actually seems in relatively good shape, with deference all the way from Jerusalem to Hungary. But the heartland of the Themes is long gone. The Sulṭānate of Rūm is a nut that cannot be cracked -- the true seed of doom for Romania. And Roman trade and shipping is now dominated by Venice, just one of the states of Francia that now rivals or surpasses Romania in economic development. What had always been the key to Roman success, control of the sea, which had previously been lost at times to the Vandals and the Arabs, now is lost forever to Italian states.

Rome and Romania Index

καὶ σὺ δὲ ὦ πόλις [ἔφην] βασίλεια, πόλις περιοχῆς, πόλις τοῦ βασιλέως τοῦ μεγάλου, σκήνωμα Ὑψίστου, αἴνεσις καὶ ὕμνησις τῶν αὐτοῦ θεραπόντων καὶ προσφιλὲς ξενοδόχημα, καὶ βασιλὶς μὲν τῶν βασιλίδων πόλεων, ᾆσμα δὲ ᾀσμάτων καὶ λαμπρότης λαμπροτήτων καὶ τῶν σπανίων πανταχοῦ θεαμάτων σπανιώτερων ὅραμα, τίς ὁ διασπάσας ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ σοῦ ὡς ἐκ μητρὸς φίλης τέκνα φιλούμενα;

And you, O City Imperial [I said], City fortified, City of the Great King, tabernacle of the Most High, praise and song of his servants and beloved refuge for strangers, Queen of the Queens of cities, song of songs and splendor of splendors, and the rarest vision of the rare wonders of the world, who is it that has torn us away from thee like beloved children from their loving mother?

τίνες γενοίμεθα; ποῖ τραποίμεθα; ποίαν παραψυχὴν εὕροιμεν γυμνοί, ὡς ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς τῶν σῶν ἐκσπασθέντες κόλπων;

What shall become of us? Whither shall we go? What consolation shall we find in our nakedness, torn from thy bosom as from a mother's womb?

O City of Byantium, Annals of Niketas Choniatēs, translated by Harry J. Magoulias [Wayne State University Press, 1984, p.325; translation modified]; Greek text, Nicetae Chroniatae Historia, edited by Ioannes Aloysius van Dieten [de Gruyter, 1975, pp.591-592].

B. THE LATIN EMPIRE, 1185-1261, 76 years

Isaac II

Bulgaria independent, 1186 Third Crusade, 1189-1192; Cyprus seized from Isaac Comnenus by Richard the Lionheart, given to Guy of Lusignan, 1191; defeat by Bulgarians at Arcadiopolis, 1194
Alexius III1195-1203,
Kingdom of Lesser Armenia independent, 1198-1375; massive earthquake in Syria, 20 May 1202; deposed by Fourth Crusade, 1203; captured by Boniface of Montferrat, 1205
Isaac II (restored)1203-1204
Alexius IV1203-1204
Alexius V

jure uxoris
Constantinople falls to Fourth Crusade, 1204
The worst and most disastrous dynasty in Roman history. Alexius IV brings in the Fourth Crusade, with impossible promises, to restore his incompetent father, and only succeeds in losing Constantinople to a foreign enemy for the first time ever. This may qualify as the true "Fall of Rome." The damage was bad enough, with many treasures and archives destroyed or carted off to Venice. Unlike the Goths at Rome in 410, the
Crusaders stuck around for 60 years, with steadily decreasing success.

As on the eve of the advent of the Goths in the 4th century, a massive earthquake affected the region in 1202 on the eve of the Fourth Crusade. This was centered in Galilee and the damage was principally inflicted through Syria and Palestine, which would only indirectly have affected Romania.

However, the earthquake was so large (perhaps a 7.6 or greater) that Anatolia was also affected, while the effects of a tsunami could have extended into the Aegean. It is thus difficult to say how this might have damaged the strength of Romania when faced with the arrival of the Crusaders. Of course, one might think that damage to the resources of the Islamic states in the Levant would have made this an ideal moment for the Crusaders to arrive there, but the Venetian plan against Constantinople had already seized the agency of the Crusade.

Varangian Recuitment by the Angeli, 1195 AD

In 1195, Isaac II, or the new Emperor Alexius III, sent three Varangians on a mission to Scandinavia to seek recruits for the Varangian Guard -- this is revealing when previously Danish and Norwegian monarchs had themselves come to Constantinople.
Letters from Emperors
about English Varangians
Manuel IHenry II1176
Michael VIIIHenry III?1272
John VIIHenry IV1402
We are told that Hreiðarr sendimaðr (i.e. "the Messenger") went to Norway (to King Sverre), Pétr illska went to Denmark (to King Canute VI the Pious), and Sigurðr grikker ("the Greek") Oddsson went to Sweden (to Knut I or Sverker II). Hreiðarr had the toughest time that we know of, since Sverre, anticipating war, had no warriors to spare.

Allowed to recruit among farmers and merchants, it is not clear that Hreiðarr, who became embroiled in local events, ever returned to Constantinople. On the other hand, Pétr may have returned with the actual Danes who were subsequently observed by Geoffroy de Villehardouin in 1203. There are many stories about Sigurðr Oddsson, but it is not clear whether his mission was successful. Since there are references to Englishmen but not to Scandinavians in the Varangian Guard of the Palaeologi, this may be last the time when Norse warriors actively traveled to Constantinople [cf. Blöndal and Benedikz, op.cit., pp.218-222].

Alexius III, having fled the Crusaders who installed Alexius IV and restored Isaac II, takes up residence at Mosynopolis in Thrace. Alexius V Mourtzouphlos, part of the popular reaction again the Crusaders and their friends, Alexius IV and Isaac II, conducted the last defense of the City but then fled. He sought refuge with Alexius III, who was, after all, his father-in-law, but who, however, had him blinded and expelled. Captured by some French Knights and returned to Constantinople, Mourtzouphlos was thrown to his death from the Column of Theodosius.

Alexius III ended up surrendering to Boniface of Montferrat, escapes to Epirus, is captured by Boniface, and then sent by Boniface to Montferrat itself. Brought back in 1209, he is ransomed by Michael I of Epirus and sent to Nicaea. Since Theodore Lascaris was unwilling to recognize him as Emperor, he went over to the Turks and tries to get them to defeat the Lascarids and install him at Nicaea. Unfortunately, Theodore Lascaris personally killed the Sulṭān of Rūm, Kay Khusraw I, in single combat. Alexius is captured, blinded, and sent to a monastery. He dies, forgotten, some time after 1211.

The Angeli continue the foreign marriages of the Comneni. One is particularly noteworthy. Irene Angelina, Εἰρήνη Ἀγγελίνα, daughter of Isaac II, married a son of Frederick Barbarossa, Philip of Swabia, who contended with Otto of Brunswick for the German Empire. They had no sons; but the marriages of their four daughters are among the most interesting in European history.

In a reconciliation of Philip's feud, the oldest daughter, Beatrice, married Otto himself. But they had no children. The younger daughters, Kunigunde, Marie, and Elizabeth, married King Wenceslas I of Bohemia, Duke Henry III of Lower Lorraine and Brabant, and King & St. Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon, respectively.

All of these marriages produced children with living modern descendants, especially among the Hapsburgs and the royal family of Spain, as can be traced at the linked genealogies. Since Isaac himself was a great-grandson of Alexius I Comnenus, this means that a large part of modern European royalty, through this connection alone, have been descendants of the Angeli and Comneni. My impression is that Roman Imperial descent for recent royalty has often been claimed through the Macedonians, but the only certain line, as we have seen, may be from Macedonian in-laws.

On the other hand, descent from the Comneni and Angeli appears to be well attested and with multiple lines. Another fruitful line will be from Maria Lascarina, Μαρία Λασκαρίνα, who married Bela IV of Hungary. Since the Lascarids themselves derive from Anna Angelina, Ἄννα Ἀγγελίνα, daughter of Alexius III, and Maria's mother, that connects up to the whole Comneni-Angeli house. Maria's son, Stephen V of Hungary, had a daughter, Katalin, who married the Serbian King Stephen Dragutin, who had a daughter the married a Bosnian Ban, with many descendants. This line all the way to the Hapsburgs can be examined on a popup.

John I Asen1186-1196
Defeats Romans at Arcadiopolis, 1194
Peter II Asen1196-1197
Kalojan Asen,
the Roman Killer,
independence recognized by Constantinople, 1202; captures Baldwin I, 1205; kills Boniface of Montferrat, 1207
John II Asen1218-1241
Defeated & Captured Theodore Ducas of Epirus, 1230; Mongol invasion, 1242
Kaloman I1242-1246
Michael II Asen1246-1257
Kaloman II1257-1258
Constantine Tich1257-1277
Ivan Mytzes1278-c.1264
Ivalio1277-1279, d.1280
John III Asen1279-1284?, d.<1302
Asens replaced by Terters
In 1204, the Pope recognized Kalojan as "King of the Bulgarians and the Vlachs" (Geoffroy de Villehardouin, calling him "Johanitza," even says "King of Wallachia and Bulgaria"). Indeed, the Asen brothers, founders of the dynasty, were themselves Vlachs, i.e. modern
Românians. This is therefore not a purely ethnic Bulgarian state. It also came close to succeeding to the throne in Constantinople, though later overpowered by the Mongols, Serbia and, of course, the Ottomans.

The principal setback to the Bulgarian state was the Mongol invasion of 1242, which itself was almost an afterthought as the Mongols abandoned the conquests of Poland and Hungary in 1241 and were returning to Russia. The Chingnizids needed to go to Mongolia to elect a new Great Khan. What followed for Bulgaria was a period of internal conflict, between members of the Asen dynasty and outsiders. Two unrelated usurpers, Constantine Tich and Ivaljo, figure in the table above. Another unrelated figure, however, Ivan Mytzes, becomes an Asen in-law and the father of the last Asen Emperor, John III. This is a confused period, with pretenders contending and dates uncertain. John III fled to the Mongols and then to Constantinople. He was succeeded in Bulgaria by his erstwhile minister, George Terter.

The list of Bulgarian rulers is from various Byzantine sources, including the only source of the genealogy here, which is the Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, Volume II, Part 2, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser II Nord-, Ost- und Südeuropa [Andreas Thiele, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Part 2, Second Edition, 1997, pp.160-162].

Although John III lost Bulgaria, his descendants figured in affairs in Constantinople for some time. Since his granddaughter married the Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus, whose daughter Helena married the Emperor John V, all the subsequent Palaeologi are his descendants.

Baldwin I of Flanders1204-
Captured by
Kalojan Asen, 1205
Henry of Flanders1206-1216
Peter de Courtenay
jure uxoris
Captured by
Theodore of Epirus, 1217
Yolanda of Flanders1217-1219
Robert I de Courtenay1221-1228
John of Brienne1228-1237
Siege of Constantinople by Nicaea & Bulgarians, 1235-1236
Baldwin II1228-1261
titular Emperor 1261-1273
"Crusade" against Nicaea, comes to nothing, 1239; Siege of Constantinople by Nicaea, 1260; falls to Michael Palaeologus, 1261
Philip IItitular Emperor 1273-1285
Catherine de Courtenaytitular Empress 1285-1307
Charles of Valoisjure uxoris
titular Emperor 1301-1313
Catherine of Valoistitular Empress 1313-1346
Philip II of Tarentojure uxoris
titular Emperor 1313-1331
Robert IItitular Emperor 1346-1364
Philip IIItitular Emperor 1364-1373
While the conquest and sack of Constantinople have rightly been regarded as one of the worst cases of vandalism and betrayal in world history, a stab in the back against the state and the civilization that had been the repository and guardian of Classical, Western, and Christian culture during most of the Middle Ages, and an insult by Latin and Frankish Western Europe against the Greek and Orthodox East, one thing must be admitted:  This was not what the Crusaders had in mind -- at least, not most of them. It wasn't their idea or their intention.

The whole project had been initiated by the future Alexius IV Angelus, looking to restore his father, cooked up in detail by Venice, and then conducted from beginning to end by the Doge Enrico Dandolo. Anthony Kaldellis also accuses Philip of Swabia and Boniface of Montferrat, adding that Alexius IV had gone to Philip with his pitch, before, apparently, going to Venice. Philip, of course, had married the daughter of Isaac II, Irene, and Boniface was his cousin. Indeed, Choniates says that the deposed Isaac wrote to Irene, who was literally in bed with Philip, asking that she urge him to get involved [O City of Byzantium, Annals of Niketas Choniatēs, translated by Harry J. Magoulias, Wayne State University Press, 1984, p.294]. He did.

The evil in this exemplifies the accusations of Choniates and Kaldellis that the foreign marriages arranged by the Comneni both tempted rebellious princes to seek foreign support and tempted foreign princes who were in-laws to intervene in Roman affairs. Philip, as it happens, didn't go on the crusade, but Boniface became its leader, although, as we will see, distrusted by Venice.

The betrayal that the Fourth Crusade represents, then, was of a more intimate character than a simple foreign invasion, let alone a "war of civilizations" (as Kaldellis wants to construe it, something just like the British conquest of India), since Venice was in origin, culture, and tradition one of Romania's own, while the foreign in-laws, rather than supporting their Roman relatives, conspired to promote themselves. In the most attenuated sense, Venice was still a de jure possession of Constantinople, while the Comneni had hoped that marriages would promote support and sympathy, rather than betrayal and antipathy.

The Crusaders, who thought that getting to Outremer by sea would be easier than marching overland, did not reckon on the scale of demands for payment by Venice, or on the cynical manipulations that would follow. Pope Innocent III wasn't too happy about it either, and the Crusaders earned excommunication for fighting Christians, for Venice, rather than Moslems, for Christendom. Afterwards, Innocent decided to make the best of the result, with the Schismatic "Greeks" conquered.

However the Crusaders got to Constantinople, of course, they still didn't need to sack the City. We can blame them for that. In the end, of course, the blame doesn't matter -- and some of it should be shared by Alexius IV anyway. The damage was done. There would be hell to pay, and several modern conflicts in the Balkans and between Turkey and her neighbors are arguably still the result.

The wealth of Constantinople had always been tempting. What the unsophisticated Crusaders would not have appreciated was that wealth is volatile, looting is a negative sum game, and that feudalism was not a system to produce any real wealth, let alone continue the mercantile culture on which the power of Romania had rested. Thus, while Venice prospered, the Crusader states in Romania were a miserable and desperate business. Boniface, after leading the Crusade, did not last long, killed in battle and his head sent to the Tsar Kalojan, and neither did his "Kingdom" of Thessalonica, which was seized by Epirus.

Nevertheless, the demonology of blame has some modern significance. If Venice is ignored and significant spleen directed at the Crusaders, there may be a particular reason for this, derived from a sort of anachronistic hostility that is directed at the Crusades in general:  Where we see them condemned as imperialism, euro-centrism, racism, xenophobia, or the oppression of the Third World -- terms that would have been incomprehensible to anyone in the 13th century -- something is going on that owes little to history and much to modern ideology. Thus, Anthony Kaldellis, as I have already noted, wants to assimilate the Crusader regimes to modern Marxist critiques of "colonialism." This is absurd, as Marx would have recognized himself. Only mercantile Venice could generate real wealth, and real capitalism was less than a gleam in the (Mercantilist) eye of the Doges.

To Islamic Fascism, its enemies are always "Crusaders," whether or not they are even Christians. To the Leftist sympathizers of Islamic Fascism, the Crusaders are simply viewed through the prism of their own Marxism and "anti-imperialist" Leninism. The effect also exemplifies moralistic relativism, with the Islamic Conquest of the Middle East itself ignored, complacently accepted, or approved, while any counter-attacks to that Conquest, which is what the Crusades were, are viewed with furious moral indignation. The double standard is blatant and shameless -- its very incoherence is not even an embarrassment to the post-modern deconstructionists who think that logical consistency is itself Euro-centric oppression. Thus, reactions to the Fourth Crusade, as to all the Crusades, may be more of a mirror to the present than an understanding of the past.

The destruction and theft effected by the Crusaders was probably a greater loss to civilization than almost anything that had happened to Romania during the Dark Ages. Yet there are two sides to the story, which we see in the account of Michael Choniates (c.1140-1220), the last Orthodox Archbishop of Athens before the city was taken by the Crusaders in 1205.

Choniates was forced to abandon his library, which then seems to have mostly been destroyed. We know that he had copies of Aitia and Hekale by Callimachus, which otherwise now only survive in fragments. Thus, Michael said, "Sooner will asses understand the harmony of the lyre and dung-beetles enjoy perfume than the Latins appreciate the harmony and grace of prose" [N.G. Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium, Duckworth, 1983, 1996, p.205].

This sounds rather like the chracterization of the Regents of the University of Texas by J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964), that they knew as much about academic freedom as an Arkanas razorback hog did of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn." But some of the library seems to have been dispersed rather than destroyed, as a friend of Choniates wrote him about some books he had recovered. But the most interesting comment is a complaint from Choniates that the price of books has been rising because "booksellers were doing a great trade with Italians" [ibid.]. The Latins buying the books were probably not the same ones who had been destroying them, and we have already seen above that Italians were beginning to acquire and translate Greek literature in the 12th century.

Indeed, we know something of the Latins who were buying books. The Dominican friar William of Moerbeke (c.1215-c.1286) traveled around Romania, acquiring manuscripts and translating them himself. In 1280 he became the Latin Archbishop of Corinth, which placed him in the middle of things. His buying and translating activities may have even been at the personal request of his fellow Dominican Thomas Aquinas, who of course was himself from the South of Italy.

This was after the time of Choniates, but it does mean that the buying about which he was complaining continued through the century. At the same time, we know that King Manfred (1250-1266) of Naples and Sicily was actually commissioning translations of Aristotle from Bartholomew of Messinia. The translations are supposed to have been sent to the University of Paris, where Aquinas (1224-1274) might have inspected them himself [ibid. pp.226-227]. Otherwise, we think of Aquinas using translations of Aristotle that were made from Arabic editions.

Amid all the damage done by the Crusaders, there thus was also already a salvage operation in effect. The disorders of the Fourth Crusade or the Turkish Conquest were probably not the safest or most efficient ways to supply Francia with Greek literature, but what we now thankfully have is the result.

But the Latins who were out buying books were not the same ones trying to run a government from Constantinople. Without the sources of taxation, and before long reduced to the environs of the City, the Latin Emperors were desperate for money. This is why we hear of them melting down bronze statues and stripping the metal roofs off of buildings, activities I have previously noted.

The conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade did not result in the establishment of the authority of the Latin Emperors over the whole of the previous Empire. Greek authority was maintained in three major locations, at Nicaea, at Trebizond, and in Epirus, and a couple of minor locations, at Rhodes, later to fall to Venice, and at the fortress of Monembasia in the Peloponnesus (Morea), which fell in 1248. All three major Greek rulers eventually proclaimed themselves emperors, which means that at one point four rulers were claiming the Imperial dignity within the old Empire -- not to mention the Bulgarian and Serbian Tsars who also wanted to inherit it. The Emperor at Nicaea was the one to return to Constantinople, but the Emperor at Trebizond was the last to fall to the Turks.

Besides the 3/8 of the whole retained by Venice, including Adrianople and Gallipoli, the Latin Empire ended up included three significant feudal dependencies, all subjugated and organized by the leader of the Fourth Crusade, Boniface the Margrave of Montferrat:  the Kingdom of Thessalonica (1204-1224), with Boniface himself as king, the Duchy of Athens (1205-1456), and the Principality of Achaea (1205-1432).

Kings of Thessalonica
Boniface of Montferrat
Killed in ambush by Vlachs, head sent to Kaloyan

1207-1224, d.1230/9
Thessalonica taken by Epirus, 1224
Boniface was denied the Imperial throne by the Venetian votes, apparently because it was thought that he might make too strong an Emperor. Instead, Baldwin IX, Count of Flanders, was elected Emperor. Baldwin's reign would be short and pathetic, but one does have to say:  this is a long way from Bruges. Flanders itself, inherited by Baldwin's daughters, would continue to play a role in European history far out of proportion to its size, as its wealth contributes to the power of the Dukes of Burgundy and then the Hapsburgs.

The Latin Emperors could have used some of that wealth. Their fragment of Romania had a similarly reduced tax base, and the Venetians dominated trade with an immunity to taxation. The result was that classical bronzes were melted down for the metal, and even the copper and lead roofs of churches were stripped and sold. None of the damage of the conquest was made good, while regular maintenance of walls and structures was neglected. The Greeks recovered a depreciated and degraded city in 1261.

Boniface himself was killed in 1207 and the Kingdom of Thessalonica turned out to be the most short-lived of the Crusader states in Romania, falling to Epirus. In 1311 the Duchy of Athens was seized by the Catalan Company, which had mutinied against the Palaeologi. The Principality of Achaea eventually got mixed up with the Anjevians and finally was inherited, much too late, by the Palaeologi in 1432; but the Duchy of Athens never returned to the control of Greek Romania. It fell to Meḥmed II in 1456.

After the restoration of Greek rule in Constantinople, a claim to the Roman throne passed down through the descendants of Baldwin II. Charles of Anjou, who had his own designs on Romania, married a daughter to Baldwin's son Philip. Later, Charles' grandson Philip married the heiress, Catherine of Valois, of the claim. None of these claimants, however, ever had much of a chance of returning to Constantinople. Many of them, however, were also Princes of Achaea, where their succession and genealogy are given in detail.

The nimbus is not used for the Latin Emperors in the genealogy because, as Roman Catholics, they would have acknowledged Papal supremacy to a degree that the Orthodox Emperors in Constantinople never would. Latin Emperors could not be "Equal to the Apostles."


Michael I Ducas

Emperor in Thessalonica, d.c.1254
takes Thessalonica, 1224; Defeated & Captured by John II Asen, 1230

1230-1237, Regent in Thessalonica, d.1241

1237-1242, Emperor in Thessalonica

Defeated by John III Ducas Vatatzes, reduced to Despot, 1242

Thessalonica falls to John III Ducas Vatatzes, 1246
Michael II1231-1271
Granted title of Despot, , of Epirus by John III Ducas Vatatzes, 1249; defeated by Vatatzes, 1251; defeated with Sicilians by Vatatzes, again, Battle of Pelagonia, 1259
Nicephorus I1271-1296


Nicholas Orsini
John Orsini1323-1335
Nicephorus II1335-1337, 1340, & 1355-1359
Epirus absorbed by Andronicus III, 1337, 1340
In the scramble for a Greek successor to the Angeli, Epirus was in a good position, from which considerable progress was made. Thessalonica was the second city of the Empire, and its capture reasonably prompted Theodore Ducas to proclaim himself Emperor. From there, however, things only went down hill. Theodore was himself defeated and captured by the Bulgarians, which would add him to the number of Valerian and Romanus IV if we considered him a proper Emperor of Romania. But the chance of that dimmed further when Theodore's successors were defeated by Nicaea, reduced to despots, and then Thessalonica itself fell to Nicaea.

Noteworthy in the genealogy is the marriage of Anna Angelina Ducaena, Ἄννα Ἀγγελίνα Δούκαινα, to Prince William II "Great Tooth" of Achaea. Their daughter became the Heiress of Achaea. However, the marriage of Ἑλένη, Helene, to Manfred of Sicily had no issue. These marriages represented the alliance of Epirus with Sicily and Achaea, which came to a bad end at Pelagonia in 1259. William himself was captured.

Epirus itself proved difficult for either Nicaea or the Palaeologi to subdue and rule, so the despots continued there for a while, subsequently under some rulers unrelated to the Ducases, including a couple of Orsini, from a noble family of the City of Rome that contributed a number of Popes and was usually involved in the domestic disputes, rising to the level of civil wars, among the Roman nobility. How they came to be involved in Eprius, I cannot say. By the time Andronicus III was able to annex the territory, the Empire as a whole was too far gone for it to have helped very much.


Alexius I

Andronicus I Gidus1222-1235
John I Axuch1235-1238
Manuel I1238-1263
Mongol vassal, 1243; travels to Court of Güyük Khān in Karakorum, 1246
Andronicus II1263-1266

John II1280-1297
Alexius II1297-1330
Andronicus III1330-1332
Manuel II1332

Anna Comnena1341, 1341-1342
Michael1341, 1344-1349
John III1342-1344
Alexius III1349-1390
Manuel III1390-1416
Alexius IV1416-1429
John IV1429-1459

Trebizond falls to Meḥmed II, 1461
A very poor excuse for an "empire," Trebizond spent much of its existence in vassalage to the Mongols and Turks who ruled the plateau behind it. It started, however, with an heir to the Comneni and a reasonable ambition of moving on to Constantinople. After realistic chances of that past, Trebizond ended up with the dubious honor of being the last of the Greek states to fall to the Ottomans, in 1461.

Lists of the Emperors of Trebizond can be found in various Byzantine histories, but the genealogy here only comes from the Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, Volume III, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser, Ergänzungsband [Andreas Thiele, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Second Edition, 2001, pp.235-236].

In the genealogy of the Comneni of Trebizond, there are noteworthy marriages to Kings of Georgia. There is also the interesting episode of Irene, daughter of Andronicus III Palaeologus, briefly succeeding her husband Basil as ruling Empress. She was then succeeded by her sister-in-law Anna. Most extraordinary is a marriage at the end of line. A daughter, Theodora, of Emperor John IV married Uzun Ḥasan, a Khan of the White Sheep Turks (1457-1478), the very Khan who conquered the Black Sheep Turks in 1469 and created a regional state that stretched from Eastern Anatolia, where the White Sheep Turks originated, into Eastern Irān. This continued until the Safavids came to power in 1508.



Theodore I

kills Kay Khusraw I in battle, 1211
John III Ducas Vatatzesjure uxoris
Cumans cross Danube, defeat Bulgars, enlisted & settled in Maeander Valley, 1237; "Crusade" against Nicaea led by Baldwin II, comes to nothing, 1239; Emperor of Epirus/Thessalonica defeated, reduced to Despot, 1242; Thessalonica falls, 1246
Theodore II1254-1258
John IV1258-1261
Sicilians & Epirotes defeated, William II of Achaea captured, Battle of Pelagonia, 1259; William ransomed with the Morea, 1261
The Lascarids at Nicaea were perhaps the best placed to move on Constantinople, except that they were at first on the wrong side of the Bosporus. Meanwhile, the legitimacy of the regime as the successor to the Angeli was reinforced when the Patriarch of Constantinople relocated to Nicaea, as well as by the dramatic moment when Theodore I killed the Sulṭān of Rūm in battle.

The Asiatic base of the Lascarids was remedied, mainly by John Ducas Vatatzes, who defeated the Greek rivals at Thessalonica and creating a state that straddled Europe and Asia. This created the kind of stranglehold on Constantinople that the Turks would duplicate later.

See the Angeli for the genealogy of Anna Angelina, Ἄννα Ἀγγελίνα, daughter of Alexius III. Maria Lascarina, Μαρία Λασκαρίνα, daughter of her and Theodore I, married Bela IV of Hungary, from which derives multiple lines of descendants. The marriages of the daughters of Theodore II, Maria, Μαρία, to Constantine Tich of Bulgaria, and Irene, Εἰρήνη, to Nicephorus I of Epirus, do not seem to have been fruitful.

Constantinople was regained on a chance betrayal to the Nicaean general and Regent, Michael Palaeologus. Once in power in Constantinople, Michael disposed of the actual Nicaean heir, John IV. The Lascarids, who were actually mostly the family of John Ducas Vatatzes, thus only served to obtain the restoration of Greek Romania for the Palaeologi.

Rome and Romania Index

Σίτ᾽ αναγνώθ᾽ σίτ᾽ ανακλαίγ᾽ σίτ᾽ ανακρούγ᾽ την κάρδιαν.
Ν᾽ αοιλλή εμάς να βάϊ εμάς η Ρωμανία πάρθεν.

Let it be read, let it be mourned, let your heart be broken.
Woe to us, alas for us Romania has been captured.

Constantine Cavafy, Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης (1863-1933), Πάρθεν, "Captured," March 1921; Modern Greek.

C. THE LAST DAYS, 1261-1453, 192 years

Tihomir ZavidovićGreat Prince, 1168-1169
Stephan I Nemanja Zavidović1169-1196, d.1200
Serbia independent, 1180
Stephan II the First-Crowned1196-1217
King of Serbia,
Stephan III Radoslav1228-1234
Stephan IV Vladislav1234-1243
Stephan Uroš I1243-1276
Stephan Dragutin1276-1282
Stephan Uroš II Milutin1282-1321
Stephan Uroš III Dečanski1321-1331
Stephen Uroš IV Dušan1331-1345
Tsar of the Serbs and the Romans, 1345-1355
Stephen Uroš V the Weak1355-1371
defeat by Murād I at Crnomen, 1371; collapse of dynasty & authority
Stephan Lazar IPrince, 1371-1389
killed, battle of Kosovo,
"Field of the Blackbirds,"
defeat by Murād I, 1389
Stephan Lazar II LazarevićDespot, 1389-1427
Turkish vassal, 1396
Ðurađ György Branković1427-1456
Sometimes prevents Skanderbeg from joining anti-Ottoman allies, facilitating Ottoman victories, 1444, 1448
Lazar III Branković1456-1458

Regent, 1458-1459, d.1473
annexed by Turkey, 1459
The Golden Age of Serbia. Independence from Romania and then the passing of the most vigorous days of Bulgaria meant an opportunity for a Serbian bid for the Imperium.

This opportunity was seized by Stephan Dušan, who ended up with most of the western Balkans and was crowned Tsar of the Serbs and Romans by the auto-cephalous Serbian Patriarch whom he had just installed (1346) at Peć. His long reign, however, was not quite long enough, and his death set off the kind of internal dissentions that had ruined many another state in Romania. The power of Serbia was broken, and the only Tsar succeeding to the first received the epithet "the Weak," and unrelated Princes soon inherited the Kingdom.

Then, all too soon, the Ottomans arrived. Defeats in 1371 and 1389 crushed Serbia. The agony of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, the "Field of the Blackbirds," still echoes today in the fierceness of the attachment of modern Serbs for the area, now largely populated by Albanians. As it happened, the Sulṭān Murād I died at Kosovo, but his son, Bāyezīd the "Thunderbolt," was, if anything, even more vigorous than his father. In 1396 Bāyezīd destroyed a Crusade, led by the King of Hungary and future Emperor Sigismund, at Nicopolis (Nikopol). Not even Bāyezīd's defeat and capture by Tamerlane (1402) revived Serbian prospects.

The dynasty of Stephan Dušan is followed by two families of princes. Stephen Lazar and his son endured the Turkish defeat and conquest and were reduced to despots. They were followed by the Bronkovićes, father and son. The wife of Lazar III Branković, Helene, was a daughter of Thomas Palaeologus (d.1465), Despot of the Morea and brother of the last Roman Emperor, Constantine XI. After the death of Lazar, Helene was Regent of Serbia until the Turkish annexation.

Lists of Serbian rulers can be found in various Byzantine histories, but the genealogy here only comes from the Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, Volume II, Part 2, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser II Nord-, Ost- und Südeuropa [Andreas Thiele, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Part 2, Second Edition, 1997, pp.143-149].

George I Terter1280-1292, d.c.1304
Mongol vassal, 1285
Theodore Svetoslav1298/9-1322
George II1322-1323
Michael III Shishman1323-1330
John IV Stephan1330-1331
John V Alexander1331-1371
John Sratsimir, Sracimir1356-1396, d.1396/97
John VI Shishman1371-1395
disintegration of state, 1385; Ottoman vassalage, 1387, 1388, Conquest, 1396
The second Bulgarian dynasty of the period was always at a disadvantage, ground between the Mongols, Serbs, Hungary, and the Ottomans. Ottoman conquest and annexation came in the same year (1396) as the Sulṭān Bāyezīd's defeat of a Crusade, led by the King of
Hungary and future Emperor Sigismund, at Nicopolis (Nikopol), where John Sracimir was killed.

Over time, the Turks clearly regarded Bulgaria as strategically more important than Serbia or the Românian principalities, and no local autonomy was allowed at all until the Russo- Turkish War of 1876-1878 and the Congress of Berlin (1878) forced it. Even then Bulgaria was divided and full independence did not come until 1908. Meanwhile, a fair number of Bulgarians had converted to ʾIslām. Since they were regarded as traitors by Christian Bulgarians, many of them migrated to Turkey, where they still live.

The list of Bulgarian rulers is from various Byzantine sources, including the only source of the genealogy here, which is the Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, Volume II, Part 2, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser II Nord-, Ost- und Südeuropa [Andreas Thiele, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Part 2, Second Edition, 1997, pp.162-163].


Michael VIII Palaeologus
Prince of Achaea captured, 1259; Restoration of Greek rule in Constantinople, 1261; Laconia & Monembasia (soon Despotate of Morea) ceded as ransom for the Prince of Achaea, 1261; Genoese granted Galata, 1267; Anjevians defeated, 1281; the Sicilian Vespers, 30 March 1282 -- Sicily revolts against & massacres the French; end of Anjevian threat
Andronicus II1282-1328
reduction of army & navy, sailors defect to Ottomans, Venetians mint Ducats after Roman debasement, 1284; defeat by Amir 'Osmān at Magnesia & Bapheus (near Nicomedia), Ottoman conquest begins, 1302; massive earthquake on Crete, 8 August 1303; Catalan Company hired, 1303, revolts, 1305; Ephesus lost to Beg of Aydın, 1304; Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, the Hospitalers, on Rhodes, 1308-1523; wind blows orb out of hand of statue of Justinian, 1317; Philadelphia cut off by Ottomans, 1322; Prusa [Bursa] lost, becomes Ottoman capital, 1326
Michael IXheir of Andronicus, 1295-1320
Andronicus III1321-1341
Chios revolts against Genoa, retaken by Andronicus, 1329; defeat by Orkhān, 1329; Nicaea [İznik] lost, 1331; Ibn Battuta in Constantinople, 1332; Thessaly recovered, 1333; Genoese expelled, Lesbos recovered, 1336; Nicomedia [İzmid] lost, 1337; Epirus annexed, 1337, 1340
John V1341-1376, 1379-1390, 1390-1391
Umur I, Beg of Aydın & ally of John Cantacuzenus, defeated by Venice & Romania, looses harbor of Smyrna, 1344; Grand Duke of Moscow contributes money to repair St. Sophia, 1346; half of dome of St. Sophia collapses, Black Death arrives at Constantinople, 1347; Genoese burn 9 new Roman ships, 1349; visits Rome, submits to Pope, visits Charles V in France, held for debts in Venice until ransomed, 1369; Ming Emperor T'ai Tsu (1368-1398) writes letter to John V announcing new Dynasty, last contact with Constantinople, 1371; deposed by Andronicus IV, with help of Ottomans, 1376

John VI Cantacuzenus
regent, 1341
1341-1354, abdicated, d.1383
Civil War, 1341-1347; Crown Jewels pawned to Venice, 1343; Bubonic Plague, 1347; revenue of Galata seven times that of Constantinople, 1348; Genoese from Galata burn Roman shipyard, 1348, Genoa pays indemnity; War between Venice & Genoa, 1350-1355; earthquake throws down walls of Gallipoli [Kallipolis, Gelibolu], Ottomans cross Dardanelles & occupy city, 1354, Ottoman foothold in Europe; John V visits Hungary, first Emperor to visit a foreign court, 1365; Adrianople [Edirne] lost, 1369; John goes to Rome & Venice, held hostage at Venice, 1369-1371; Serbs defeated by Ottomans at Crnomen/Marica, 1371; Empire Vassal of Murād I, 1372
Andronicus IV1376-1379; heir, 1381-1385
Thessalonica lost to Ottomans, 1387
Manuel Cantacuzenus
Despot of Morea,

Matthew Cantacuzenus
Despot of Morea,

Demetrius Cantacuzenus
Despot of Morea,
John VII1390, flees to Bāyezīd I; regent, 1399-1403
1403-1408, in Thessalonca
Philadelphia lost, Roman forces particpating as Vassals of Ottomans, 1390
Theodore I PalaeologusDespot of Morea,
Manuel II1391-1425
Ottoman siege, 1391; Russian Church stops mention of Emperor, 1392; Ottoman vassalage repudiated, 1394; siege of Constantinople, 1394-1396; Battle of Nicopolis, Sigismund of Hungary defeated by Bāyezīd I, 1396; Ottoman siege, 1397-1402; Emperor travels to Italy, France, England, 1400-1403; stays with Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan, Charles VI of France, and Henry IV of England, 1400; Thessalonica returned, 1403, ceded to Venice, 1423; siege of Constantinople by Musa, in Ottoman civil war, 1411; Siege of Constantinople by Murad II, 1422
Theodore II Palaeologus Despot of Morea,
John VIII1425-1448
attends the Church Council at Ferrara & Florence, 1439-1440; Crusade of Varna, victory at Nish, Skanderbeg & Albanians defect from Turks, 1443, defeated at Varna, Vadislav of Hungary & Poland killed, 1444; Murād II invades Morea, breaking Hexamilion Wall with cannon fire, enslaving 60,000, 1446; Russian archbishops no longer consecrated by Patriarch of Constantinople, 1448
Constantine XI , Dragases,
Драгаш, Dragaš
Despot of Morea 1428-1449
Siege of Constantinople, City falls to Meḥmed II, 1453

Despot of Morea,
Principality of Achaea inherited, 1432; Mistra, Morea, falls to Meḥmed II, 1460; last piece of Romania, the fortress of Monembasia, ceded to the Pope, 1461; daughter Zoë marries Ivan III of Russia, 1472; Thomas dies at Rome, 1465

Michael Palaeologus restores the Greeks to Constantinople, and for a time Romania acted as a Great Power again, fending off Charles of Anjou, with Genoa now replacing Venice as commercial agents and Italians-of-choice in Constantinople. But it was a precarious position. Michael himself sowed the seeds of disaster by confiscating land from the tax exempt akritai, ἀκρίται (sing. akritēs, ἀκρίτης), the landed frontier (ákron, ἀκρον) fighters of Bithynia. This weakened defenses that Andronicus II weakened further with military economies, failing to follow the maxim of Machiavelli that the first duty of a prince is war. Once the Ottomans broke the Roman army in Bithynia (1302), they, and other Turks, quickly reduced Roman possessions in Asia to fragments, never to be recovered. Bithynia (Prusa, Nicaea, and Nicomedia) became the base of Ottoman power, with Prusa, as Bursa, the Ottoman capital.

The Letter of the Hung-wu Emperor

The Chinese kept track of all their contacts with the Roman Empire. The Roman mission in 166 AD was the first, and the last was a letter written by the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, T'ai Tsu, or the Hung-wu Emperor (1368-1398), to announce the inception of the Dynasty.

This was composed in 1371, in the days of Emperor John V. It was not sent by a Chinese emissary but was entrusted to a "merchant" named Nieh-ku-lun, 捏古倫, Niēgǔlún. The suspicion is that this was actually the Archbishop of Peking, Nicolaus de Bentra, who had been appointed by the Pope in 1333. The 明史, Míngshǐ, dynastic history says that Nieh-ku-lun arrived at the Yüan Court, but then the Dynasty fell. The Hung-wu Emperor summoned him to carry the letter to Constantinople. We do not know if the letter was successfully transmitted. We might even wonder if de Bentra carried the letter directly to Rome rather than Constantinople, arriving on the eve of the Great Schism. It may be lying around somewhere in the Vatican Library.

A key passage in the letter is as follows:


Zhèn wéi chénmín tuīdài jí Huángdì Wèi dìng yǒu Tiānxià zhī hào yuē Dàmíng jiàn yuán Hóngwǔ yūjīn sì nián yǐ.

We [, zhèn, the Imperial pronoun, Japanese chin] were selected by Our people to occupy the Imperial Throne [皇帝位] Under Heaven, under the dynastic title of "the Great Ming" [大明], commencing with Our reign styled "Hung-wu" [洪武], of which we now are in the fourth year. [op.cit., F. Hirth, pp.66,109, translation modified]

The expression "Under Heaven," 天下, Tiānxià, which implies that China rules the world, would be the equivalent in Greek of Οἰκουμένη, Oecuménē, the "inhabited world," which could be the Roman Empire or, now, a universal Christian Church.

The reign of John V, of course, was fragmented and disordered; and John himself traveled to the West to solicit help, mostly unsucceessfully, against the Ottomans. It is a shame we do not know the fate of the Hung-wu's letter, since the Chinese otherwise record the reception of Roman missions, not occasions of Chinese communication in return.

After the letter to Constantinople, the next contact of the Chinese Court with the West was the arrival of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), who was invited to the Imperial Court in 1601 -- long after the Fall of Constantinople.

The Flag of Romania

In this period flags in the modern sense were just beginning to come into use; and there were 14th century banners that would have evolved into a proper flag for Romania, given the chance. We find a field with a Cross, like many Crusader banners and flags, with the addition of curious devices, which look like images and mirror-images of something between the letter B, the letter E, and broken links of a chain. These are sometimes said to have already been used by Constantine I and have been variously interpreted.

One interpretation that is seen is to take them as B's which abbreviate βασιλεὺς βασιλέων βασιλεύων βασιλεῦσι, Basileus Basileôn Basileuôn Basileusin, "King of Kings ruling over Kings." However, Basileus in Mediaeval Greek meant the Emperor, not "king," while the Latin word rēx was used for actual kings. So this formula would have to be employing anachronistic usages of basileus. That's possible, but the Rhōmaioi could also find something of the sort offensive. So this looks like a retrospective and speculative interpretation.

Another possibility is that they are stylized forms of Crescent Moons, originally symbolic of the divine patroness of Byzantium, the goddess Artemis, Ἄρτεμις. The stylized forms have been inherited in the arms of Serbia, and crescents are used as a Serb national symbol, seen at left -- something that has probably become a sign of terror to non-Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. If it was the Crescent that was originally used in Constantinople, this may have been directly inherited by Turkey.

A Crescent is now commonly taken as symbolic of ʾIslām, but this may not antedate the Turkish flag. The star on the Turkish flag is sometimes said to be Roman also, symbolizing the Virgin Mary, but it does not occur on the earliest Turkish flags. However, Whitney Smith [Flags Through the Ages and Across the World, McGraw-Hill, 1975] shows a flag identified only as "medieval Russian" that shows a cross with four crescents and four stars also [p.174]. The crescents are oriented differently, but this design seems too elaborate not to have Roman antecedents.

It turns out that the crescent and the star appear on coins of early Byzantium, before the Christian Era, representing the goddess Hecate, Ἑκάτη. Hecate does overlap with Artemis as a moon goddess, and she was a patroness of the Greek colony. But this is an extraordinary image, since we see more or less the same thing two thousand years later on the Turkish flag, with the cresent borrowed for ʾIslām in general. So, although Constantinople was one of the greatest prizes ever for Islamic Conquest, what ʾIslām inherited thereby was a pagan symbol -- the ultimate symbolic revenge.

The banner that Whitney Smith shows for Romania itself [p.45] has the flag with the distinctive devices quartered with a simple red cross on white. One does not find this banner, or other Roman symbols, shown or discussed in the standard Byzantine histories. This seems peculiar, and Smith gives no reference for his banner. Wikipedia does cite a Spanish atlas circa 1350, the Conoscimento de todos los Reinos. If we do not know of it from Greek sources, that is probably why it does not figure in the Byzantine histories.

The Cross of St. George

I would like to know more about the history and meaning of such a banner. The red cross on white came to be identified as the Cross of St. George (Ἅγιος Γεώργιος), which is how we see it as the flag of England -- something that is coming into increasing use today, when England often has sports teams separate from Scotland (which uses the Cross of St. Andrew). But St. George has been widely popular and is the patron of many places, including Barcelona, Portugal, Beirut, Georgia in the Caucasus, and various other states and cities.

While the red on white Cross was used by Genoa and some other Italian cities, there is the complication that St. George is not the Patron Saint of Genoa (although this is sometimes said to be the case, as I have been doing previously) -- that is John the Baptist. The Genoese cross is thus perhaps not originally the Cross of St. George at all -- although there is a story about the red cross and St. George being brought back from the First Crusade (1099), which is possible.

Wikipedia says that ships from London began using the red Cross on white in the Mediterranian in 1190 precisely to benefit from the protection of Genoa -- the Doge was paid an annual tribute for the privilege of this use. Since Genoa became the ally of Constantinople under the Palaeologi, I wonder if the banner actually reflects that alliance. In modern custom, the upper corner by the staff, the canton, is the key quarter, so the quartering we see could be something used in the first place by the Genoese.

There is the issue of just how and when the red cross on white becomes associated with St. George. The Saint, as a native of Lydda in Palestine, was popular in the Orthodox Churches (a cave near Beirut is still pointed out as the site of his slaying the dragon, although other places also claim that distinction), and the earliest known depiction of him slaying the dragon is from 11th century Cappadocia, but I am not otherwise aware of him being particularly iconic for the identity of Romania or Constantinople -- as I have noted, Byzantine histories have little discussion of such symbols. And "George," Γεώργιος, is not originally a Christian name but derives from the name of Zeus Georgus, Ζεὺς Γεωργός ("earth worker"), i.e. Zeus the patron of farmers.

The crosses in general are artifacts of the Crusades, and the particular popularity of St. George in the West was itself the result of Crusaders bringing his cult and legend back with them. In a 1188 meeting between Richard the Lionheart and the King Philip II Augustus of France, red on white was chosen for the Crusaders of France and white on red for those of England, but this was apparently a random assignment and did not involve any preexisting attachment of France, or of these colors, for St. George (see more about this elsewhere).

And these assignments persisted for some time. In the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, the body of St. Louis, who died in 1270, is still shown draped in the red on white. Since St. George was not the patron of Genoa, the association of the red cross with the Saint is more likely to originate at the source with the Crusaders. It is noteworthy that the church of the English Varangians in Constantinople was dedicated to St. Nicholas and St. Augustine of Canterbury. One would have expected a church of English warriors to involve St. George, if St. George was already associated with England. He wasn't.

Since the red on white cross, as a symbol of St. George, has become distinctive of England, I begin to wonder to what extent it actually reflects the history of English involvement with Romania. Indeed, if the Cross of St. George here originated with Crusaders in the East, its interpretation as an English symbol could well have been due to the English Varangians themselves, who would have fought under it for many years and picked up the cult of St. George just as the Crusaders did.

It is attested that by 1277, the English cross had settled on the red on white coloring, and this was at the time of perhaps the heyday of English Varangians under Michael VIII -- who wrote the letter mentioning them in 1272. Whitney Smith says that the red cross was not really prominent for another century [p.182], while The Penguin Dictionary of Saints [1965, 1983] says that George "may have been named the national patron when King Edward III founded the Order of the Garter under his patronage, c.1348" [p.146].

I might therefore entertain the speculation that what became the traditional coloring of the English Cross of St. George, and its identity as the Cross of St. George, might actually have been derived from a Roman even more than from a Genoese source. This would be a monument unlike any other to the history of the English involvement in Constantinople. Since most histories of England ignore the very existence of English Varangians, the connection of the Cross of St. George to them falls into a kind of secret history.

Raffaele D'Amato [op.cit. p.12] says that one of the last references to the English Varangians was a letter written by John VII (who was Regent, 1399-1403, for his uncle Manuel II) to King Henry IV of England in 1402, speaking of them helping in the Turkish siege of Constantinople, 1394-1402.
Letters from Emperors
about English Varangians
Manuel IHenry II1176
Michael VIIIHenry III?1272
John VIIHenry IV1402
D'Amato adds that "'Axe-bearing soldiers of the British race' are referred to by Byzantine envoys in Rome as late as 1404..." This is apparently the last reference to English Varangians. If Michael VIII was also writing to a King of England about English Varangians in 1272, which is possible but is not stated by Blöndal and Benedikz or by D'Amato, this would have been Henry III -- which means that Emperors wrote to Kings Henry II, Henry III, and Henry IV about English subjects in the Varangian Guard. That would be a nice touch. Even without Michael VIII, we do see a history of the Emperors expressing concern to Kings of England about the presence and activities of Englishmen in Romania. And there certainly may have been other communications whose record has not survived.

While John VII wrote to King Henry IV in 1402, Henry had already been visited in person by Manuel II in 1400. Manuel was among three Emperors, including John V and John VIII, who visited Francia, hat in hand, to seek support against the Turks. This included humiliating negotiations with Popes to surrender the Orthodox Church to the pretentions and innovations of the Papacy. That never did any good, since the Popes had no military aid to send, and the people of Romania were not going to surrender to the Latins. Popes even complained that the Emperors could not get their people to agree.

If no military aid could be had from France or England, and Italian cities, which sometimes helped, were usually busy fighting each other, and Romania, the Poles and Hungarians were rather more alert to the danger. A "Crusade" led by Sigismund, and the time King of Hungary, was destroyed at Nicopolis in 1396. Similarly, the "Crusade of Varna," after an initial victory at Nish in 1443, was defeated at Varna, where Vadislav VI, of Hungary & Poland, was actually killed, in 1444 -- less than a decade before the Fall of Constantinople. At Nish, Skanderbeg and his Albanians defected from the Turks, joining the ranks of Balkan rulers who held off the Ottomans for years, even after the Fall of Constantinople -- including St. Stephen III, the Great, of Moldavia (1457-1504), who won 46 of 48 battles against the Turks.

The Dicephalic Eagle

The double headed (dicephalic) Eagle is also a Roman device, said to have been introduced by Michael VIII, with the two heads looking towards the European and Anatolian halves of the Empire, as the Emperor did from Constantinople. This duality can be nicely expressed as Europa and Asia, which, on the one hand, are the Continents on the two sides of the Bosporus, but, on the other, are also nearby old Roman povinces. The duality is carried over to the Ottomans, where the European side is Rumelia (Turkish Rumeli, -- رُوم اَيلِى -- Greek Ρούμελη or Ρωμυλία, or Bulgarian Румелия) and the Asiatic side originally Rūm ( -- رُوم) but later Anadolu ( -- آنَاطُولُى), i.e. Anatolia. The Ottomans, however, do not seem to have used the dicephalic Eagle.

Alternatively, Donald M. Nicol [Byzantium and Venice, a Study in Diplomatic and Cultural Relations, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 249] says, the dicephalic Eagle was adopted by Andronicus II to symbolize the division of authority with his grandson, Andronicus III -- though it far outlasted that particular division. However, it looks like dicephalic eagles long antedate this and are found in Hittite, Armenian, and even Seljuk iconography, with the latter perhaps suggested by remaining Hittite images in Anatolia. The earliest use in Romania seems to have been with Isaac Comnenus.

Eagles have been used by many (including the United States and modern Romania) to imply Roman antecedents; but the double headed eagle, despite the low level of power to which the Palaeologi had fallen, was adopted in particular by the Holy Roman Empire (followed by Austria) and by Russia, and subsequently by Serbia (as we see at left, with the devices discussed above), Montenegro, Armenia, Albania, and others. In direct continuity with Romania, it is also used by the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Skanderbeg, 1405-1468

Although the eagle had disappeared from much Communist iconography, it has returned since the Fall of Communism. One Communist regime that continued to use it even on its flag, was Albania, to commemorate George Castriota (Gjergj Kastrioti), or Skanderbeg, who drove the Turks out of Albania between 1443, when Skanderbeg, raised as a hostage and elevated to Ottoman command, changed sides at the Battle of Nish, and his death, apparently from the plague, in 1463. Numerous Ottoman invasions were foiled, despite their armies outnumbering the Albanians, massively, every time. One invasion was defeated even while the Turks were otherwise besieging Constantinople in 1453.

Ritratto di Giorgio Scanderbeg, 1552-1568, by Cristofano dell'Altissimo (1500–1605); Uffizi Gallery, Florence
"Skanderbeg" is an a version of the name we see as "Skënderbeu" in Albanian, from Turkish إِسْكَنْدَر بَك, ʾIskandar Beğ, "Alexander Bey." It was a title that had already been used by the Turks before his defection to the Christians.

Note in the genealogy below that Skanderbeg's son John marries a Palaeologina, Παλαιολογίνα. As many Albanians fled to Italy, Skanderbeg's descendants would live there as Italian nobility.

The Venetians, frequently trying to appease the Turks, offered a reward for the death of Skanderbeg in 1447. They also aided the Ottomans in the siege of the Albanian fortress of Sfetigrad in 1448, where they were themselves defeated by Skanderbeg on the Drin River. The Venetians then aided the Ottoman siege of Croya, where Skanderbeg was again victorious in 1450. In all this, Skanderbeg was often helped by Alfonso V of Aragón, who also convenientaly ruled nearby Naples.

Venice was not the only Christian power that opposed Skanderbeg on behalf of the Ottomans. At least twice, Ðurađ György Branković (1427-1456) of Serbia blocked Skanderbeg from joining his allies currently fighting the Turks. In 1444, this may have contributed to the Ottoman victory at Varna; but it did not prevent Serbia from shorly thereafter being reduced to a Turkish province.

Despite the Turkish invasions being defeated by Skanderbeg, the Turks did effectively devastate Albania. That's because Skanderbeg could not stop the invasions directly. They were overwhelming. So Skanderbeg had to take to the moutains, use guerilla tactics, picking off vulnerable formations, and wait for better opportunies, which he always seized. This would defeat the invasion, but at a cost. The Turks could spend most of their time looting and scourging the countryside, despite then needing to retreat.

With Skanderbeg's family, many Albanians decamped to Italy. Those that remained ironically largely converted to Islām, creating internal conflicts among the nations of the Balkans. The modern flashpoint is over Kosovo, where the Serbian population was gradually replaced by Albanians.

When Lord Byron visited Albania, his sympathies were for Albanian independence, before he moved on to support the Greek rebellion against the Turks. Unfortunately, the Turks then obtained Albanian help against the Greeks, and then they called on the Albanian Muḥammad ʿAlī of Egypt to help suppress the rebellion. Since modern Albanian nationalists want to celebrate Skanderbeg as a national hero, they must gloss over the awkward circumstance that he was fighting for Christendom and against the Ottoman Jihād of Islām.

The genealogy that has been running to the right is based on genealogical information at Wikidata. I have some questions about the descent, but what we do see does lead to living descendants of Skanderbeg. Every generation until recently seems to involve marriages with Italian nobility in the South of Italy. Finally, we have an heiress who marries German nobility, but whose son then marries an Indonesian actress. We are certainly a long way from the 15th century. The "Irene" at the top of the chart is descended from the Palaeologi, as can be seen on the genealogy of the Palaeologi below. At the same time, other lines of descent indicated there, although illegitimate, also may involve modern descendants.

We see multiple Dukes of Termoli. This town is on the Adriatic coast across from Naples. It is an area settled by 15th century Albanian refugees, who are still there and are called the Arbëreshë people, speaking the Arbëresh dialect of Albanian. The name of Termoli itself in Albanian is Térmëlë. Other areas in the South of Italy, especially in Calabria, still have Albanian speakers. The Italian Albanians, of course, retain the Christianity they brought with them from Albania, before conversions to Islām.

Ancient Epirus

Albania, 1914-present

The Morea & Mistra

In the last days of Romania, as all else was being lost, one domain expanded. That was the Despotate of the Morea (ἡ Μωρέας, hè Mōréas, Μωριάς, Mōriás) the Mediaeval name of the Peloponnesus -- a name apparently derived from the mulberry trees (Latin morus; Greek μορέα, moréa; Modern Greek μουριά, mouriá) that had been extensively planted there for silk worms and sericulture, after silkworm eggs were smuggled from China in the days of Justinian.

After the Fourth Crusade, the last of the Morea, the fortress of Monembasia, Μονεμβασία, had fallen to the Latins in 1248. But then Monembasia and Laconia were returned in 1261 as ransom for William II de Villehardouin (1246-1278), Prince of Achaea, who had been captured in battle in 1259.

On Mt. Taygetos, to the west above the ancient city of Sparta, the castle (castrum, κάστρον) of Mistra, Μυστρᾶς, Mystrás (or Μιστρᾶς, Mistrás, or Μυζηθρᾶς, Myzēthrās) had been founded by Prince William in 1248. Under the Palaeologi, this grew into a complex of buildings and became a surprising center of art and learning as well as the capital of the Despotate. Indeed, one could even say that the Renaissance began there, since many of its scholars, with their books, fled the Turkish Conquest to Italy, which was ready for them.

The Morea became a kind of Viceroyalty under the Cantacuzeni Despots (Δεσπόται). Under the Palaeologi, starting in 1383, the Despot, Δεσπότης (sometimes more than one), was usually a son or brother of the Emperor. The last Emperor, Constantine XI, began as a Despot of Morea. He very nearly acquired Athens in 1435. Unfortunately, in 1446 he had to endure a raid by Ottoman Emir Murād II, which broke through the Hexamilion Wall across the Isthmus of Corinth with cannon fire, an omninous portent of what the Ottomans could do at Constantinople in 1453. Murād enslaved 60,000, apparently in retaliation for the Crusade of Varna in 1444.

Constantine's brother, the last Despot, Thomas, married the Heiress of Achaea and came into possession of the Principality and all the Peloponnesus in 1432. By then there was little time left for further successes. The last thing left to Thomas by the Ottomans was, again, the fortress of Monembasia. Thomas never took the obvious step of declaring himself the new Emperor in succession to his brother, and he turned over Monembasia to the Pope in 1461 (or 1460). The Pope thus became, as Popes had long desired, the ruler of all the Roman Empire. The Pope sold the fortress to Venice in 1463 (or 1464). It remained with Venice, 1463-1538, fell to the Ottomans, and then was recovered by Venice, 1684-1715. The long slumber of Ottoman possession was then followed by that of modern Greece in 1821.

The Fall of Constantinople

One of the most formative, epochal, colorful, and dramatic episodes in world history was the Fall of Constantinople, on May 29, 1453. As the final end of the Roman Empire, it was a much more revolutionary and catastrophic change than the "fall" of the Western Empire in 476, in which power remained in the same hands of the current magister militum. That the greatest Christian city of the Middle Ages should pass to ʾIslām held a symbolism that was lost on none.

But the defenders had little active help from a Europe that four hundred years earlier had launched armies all the way to Jerusalem. The most active help was from an unofficial Italian contingent from Genoa (which officially did not want to break relations with the Ottomans), led by the accomplished soldier Giovanni Giustiniani Longo. Giustiniani was perhaps militarily the most effective leader of the defense. When he was wounded and left the walls, one is then not surprised to learn that the city fell on that day. As the last Emperor's name, Constantine XI, recalls the founder of the city, Giustiniani's name echoes the Emperor, Justinian, who recovered Genoa itself from the Ostrogoths. But it was only the introduction of cannon that made the breach in the Long Walls possible at all. They had not been designed for cannon, whose invention was centuries in the future. Instead, in the 5th century, the Walls were so formidable that Anthony Kaldellis says, "Henceforth, medieval cities would fall into three categories: unwalled, walled, and Constantinople" [op.cit., The New Roman Empire, p.166].

The siege of Constantinople began on April 6, 1453. It was not the first effort by the Turks to take the City, but it would be much better prepared to do so, with the enthusiasm and determination of the young Sulṭān Meḥmet II. The City could not be entirely sealed off from outside help, and ships occasionally were able to come and go. Short of defenders, a major setback for the Romans was when the Turks avoided the chain across the Golden Horn by dragging their ships overland behind Galata into the previously safe harbor. At that point, the City was under assault from three sides instead of just two.

The siege would then last 53 days, with a fatal breach finally opened by Meḥmet's cannons, serviced by renegade Hungarians, in the previously impregnable Triple Land Wall. For a while, the breach was miraculously repaired by frantic activity every night -- with bales of hay absorbing cannon balls better than the stone and brick had -- to the astonishment of the Turks. But this ended up being more cosmetic than structural, and in the end the equivalent of string and duct tape were not enough.

After masses of cannon fodder ("bashi-bazouks," başıbozuq, باشى بوزوق) filled the moat with bodies, the elite Janissaries (Turkish Yeniçeri, "new soldiers") poured through. May 29th, a Tuesday (Julian Day 225 1915), would then be remembered in ʾIslām as 20 Jumādā l-ūlā, (جُمَادَى ٱلْأُولَى, i.e. the "first" Jumādā), 857 AH, on the Islamic calendar.

Because of the high drama and significance of all this, it is a little puzzling that there has never been, to my knowledge, a Hollywood movie about the event. The closest may have been the brief prologue to Bram Stoker's Dracula [1991], by Francis Ford Coppola, where we see the Cross thrown down from the dome of Sancta Sophia and a Crescent appear in its place. One problem with doing the story may be in great measure because of the scale of the location.

The Theodosian Land Walls of Constantinople are 6.5 kilometers long, almost 4 miles. Since the ruins of the walls could not be used, and the whole length could not be built (as the whole Alamo was build by John Wayne for The Alamo), other devices would be necessary. With computer graphic effects, a portion of the Wall could be built with the rest filled in digitally, the way the top half of the Colosseum was filled in for Gladiator. And models could be used. With the older technology, this would have looked very cheesy. However, models now can look much, much better -- the models for Lord of the Rings (2001) even came to be called "big-atures" instead of "miniatures" they were so large.

CGI and models would also work for another problem, which would be showing the general situation of the city between the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus, and the Golden Horn. A live shot of the modern buildings would not help. But the whole thing could be done digitally, or live shots could be digitalized and edited, to remove modern buildings and render mediaeval ones.

This would also help with scenes in Sancta Sophia. The movie would have to show church services there, but these have not been allowed in the modern building, even when it was made a secularized museum by Kemal Atatürk, rather than the mosque it became at the Conquest. In recent years, a small Islamic chapel was created, but not a Christian one. It is illegal to pray before the visible icons. Now the problem has become even worse, since the dictatorial Islamist President, Recep Erdoğan, has turned the whole building back into a mosque, to curry favor with conservative rural voters, since he is losing the support of urban and secular Turks. It is not clear what will be done with the mosaics that the Ottomans had originally covered over with plaster or whitewash.

Actually, no problem. All we need is a photograph, and Industrial Light and Magic can put Constantine XI and the whole gang right into it with all the paraphernalia of the Greek Orthodox Church (although the Latin Church was formally in charge at the time).

Even so, it is questionable how interested Hollywood will ever be, even after Gladiator, and even when the legendary material, like the Virgin Mary retrieving her Icon, or the various versions of the death of Constantine, simply cry out for cinematic representation. With the present conflicts involving ʾIslām, some might consider the whole topic inflammatory; and it is very possible that Turkey would not allow location filming for such a movie. However, stock footage could be used for all the needed scenes that would then be digitalized.

While there may or may not be surviving Imperial Palaeologi (see below), Constantine XI lives on in legend. When the Turks had manifestly broken through, at the Fifth Military Gate -- subsequently called the Hücum Kapısı, "Assault Gate" in Turkish -- and the Fall of the City was imminent, the Emperor is said to have thrown off the Imperial Regalia and disappeared into the thick of the fight. He is reported to have shouted, ἴωμεν, ἄνδρες, ἐπὶ τοὺς βαρβάρους τούσδε, "Let's go, men, against these barbarians!" -- the last words of the Roman "Last Emperor" [Greek Text, Laonikos Chalkokondyles, The Histories, Volume II, translated by Anthony Kaldellis, translation modified, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Harvard University Press, 2014, p.192].

In Chinese, this could be (末帝末命, Mòdì Mòmìng), "Last Emperor, Last Command" (or "last will") -- (末言, mòyán), "last words," is an expression that I have not been able to find in Chinese.

There is no doubt that Constantine died. A body was later identified and a head displayed, but some doubt remains about the identification. A story arose that Constantine sleeps under the Golden Gate (like Barbarossa under the Kyffhäuser), or that an angel turned him into marble, with a similar placement below that Gate, or that he would reenter the City through the Gate; and we get legendary details such as the awakening of the Emperor would be "heralded by the bellowing of an ox" [Donald M. Nicol, The Immortal Emperor, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p.104].

Generations of Turkish governments took these stories with sufficient seriousness that the central entrance of the Golden Gate remains bricked up to this very day -- like the Golden Gate in Jerusalem, through which the Messiah is supposed to enter the City. In 1717, Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of the British Ambassador, reported that the Turkish government had seized an Egyptian mummy that had been bought by the King of France. Since the mummy was then placed in the "Seven Towers," the fortress built around the Golden Gate, this seems to indicate a belief, or fear, by the government that this had been the body of Constantine XI, to be used as a talisman for the defeat of the Turks or the reconquest of Constantinople. This same story was later related to the French consul F.C.H.L. Pouqueville, who was held prisoner in the fortress from 1799 to 1801, and who claimed to have actually found the mummy there and carried off its head [ibid. p.103]. I don't know what Pouqueville is supposed to have done with the head.

A similar legend concerns Sancta Sophia. We find a version of it in, of all places, one of Anne Rice's vampire fictions:

" the Turks stormed the church, some of the priests left the altar of Santa Sofia [sic]," he said. "They took with them the chalice and the Blessed Sacrament, our Lord's Body and Blood. They are hidden this very day in the secret chambers of Santa Sofia, and on the very moment that we take back the city, on the very moment when we take back the great church of Santa Sofia, when we drive the Turks out of our capital, those priests, those very priests will return. They'll come out of their hiding place and go up the steps of the altar, and they will resume the Mass at the very point where they were forced to stop." [The Vampire Armand, 1983, Ballantine Books, 1999, p.110]

It is not at all difficult to imagine that Sancta Sophia was built with secret passages or chambers. Justinian might even seem negligent if he had not done that. A similar legend is that three priests or monks sleep in the crypt of the Gül Camii mosque, which had been the church of St. Theodosia or the Virgin of the Roses (Gül Camii actually means the "Rose, its mosque"), and that Christian vistors could hear them say that "the time and the hour had not yet come" [Nicol, op.cit., p.105]. Since the Latin Rite was being observed at the time, and the locals consequently had been boycotting services at Sancta Sophia, it is not clear what priests, Latin or Greek, were present when the Turks arrived at the Church. Perhaps we will see when they emerge.

Whether deathless priests wait for the liberation of the churches and the City is a more demanding idea than that of secret passages, although perhaps not much more demanding than the changes in politics and demography that would be necessary for Constantinople to be restored to Christendom -- a Christendom, or at least a European Christendom, that these days seems to have lost faith, confidence, and will far more than contemporary ʾIslām. Indeed, one wonders if Francia can be identified as "Christendom" at all anymore.

The hostility of modern intellectuals to religion, and particularly to Christianity, often with craven accommodation to militant ʾIslām (including over social issues for which Christians are fierceful condemned, even demonized), and their anti-Semitism, is one of the more remarkable and disturbing characteristics of the modern European moral climate.

ἡ Ἀνάστασις, "The Resurection," specifically of Adam and Eve;
fresco, The Church of St. Savior in Chora, ἡ Ἐκκλησία τοῦ Ἁγίου Σωτῆρος ἐν τῇ Χώρᾳ; Mosque, Kariye Camii, after c.1500; Museum, Kariye Muzesi, 1945; returned to mosque, as Islamist insult to Christians, by Erdoğan, closed, 2020.

Vladmir Putin, creating an aggressive dictatorship in Russia, seems intent on recreating the Russian Empire, perhaps with Tsarist ambitions against Turkey -- although, busy trying to conquer the Ukraine, Putin has given no hint of that yet -- and he has recently cultivated Erdoğan as an ally. It is not clear how much Putin, the Russian Church, and the Russians are offended by Erdoğan turning Sancta Sophia, or Chora, back into a mosque. There was more protest in the Orthodox world than in the Catholic or Protestant.

As confident as the Europeans are demoralized, Putin was long treated with similar complacency and appeasement -- at least until American Democrats decided that they could blame him for the election of Donald Trump. We then got the long, fraudulent circus of the Russia Hoax, which mainly exposed the dishonesty of the Democrats, the media, the FBI, and other "deep state" bureaucrats.

The End of the Hellenistic Age

Usually, the Hellenistic Age is reckoned to have begun with Alexander the Great and ended with the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC. However, we can look at it another way and reckon that the Age did not really end until 1453.

A distinguishing feature, perhaps the distinguishing feature of the Hellenistic Age, was the use of the Greek language. Greek became the common language -- in a dialect actually called "common," κοινή, koinḗ -- not only in the lands conquered by Alexander, but in areas outside them, which came under Greek influence. Non-Greeks -- Persians, Babylonians, Syrians, Phrygians, Carians, Galatians, Phoenicians, Jews, Arabs, Egyptians, etc. -- thus became Ἑλληνισταί, Hellēnistaí, "Greek speakers." This was of serious and enduring consequence. Thus, our most authentic Egyptian voice writing about Egyptian history was the priest Manethō, Μανέθων, writing, of course, in Greek.

The first translation of the Hebrew Bible was into Greek, a text we then know as the Septuagint. In line with that, we find that the New Testament was, apparently, composed entirely in Greek -- where, when Jesus quotes the Old Testament, it is usually a faithful rendering from the Septuagint, even though Jesus was himself speaking Aramaic. It was the Evangelists doing the scholarship.

Of course, the New Testament is in the κοινή, at which proper Classicists turn up their noses, just as Sanskritists may sneer at Sanskrit Buddhist literature. Yet when Attic Greek was revived in the Second Sophistic, Classicists turn their noses up at that also, as affected and artificial, generally ignoring, if not despising, subsequent Mediaeval literature in that dialect, despite their own continuation of that very tradition by teaching Attic first of all in modern Classics education. The confused ideology, if not hypocrisy, at play there is one of the reasons for this entire webpage -- although the principle is pretty obvious for Mediaeval literature, that Attic written by Christians is not legitimate -- reflecting the Nietzschean Nihilism of the modern Academy.

We can see an interesting modern confusion about language in the movie The Passion of the Christ [2004]. For the sake of authenticity, Mel Gibson has the Roman characters speaking Latin, and the Jewish characters speaking Aramaic. However, when Pilate displays Jesus and proclaims, Ecce Homo, "Behold the Man," very few Jews present would have understood him. They mostly didn't speak Latin.

In the New Testament, however, Pilate actually says, ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος [John 19:5]. Since Greek had been the common language of the region for about three centuries, chances are that a lot more of the Jews present would have understood it. Thus, for authenticity, Gibson should have had Pilate speaking Greek. He would have known it, from his own proper education, and he would have known that the Jews of Judaea had been hearing it for centuries. That was his best chance of being understood. I doubt that he had learned Aramaic -- Aramaic that had been, of course, the common language of the Persian Empire, replacing older languages, like Babylonian and Hebrew.

Rome had not been conquered by Alexander -- he probably would not even have heard of it. Nevertheless, we have seen on this page how Greek had become, to the Emperor Claudius, one of utrique sermones nostri, "both our languages." Then we have seen how in the Second Sophistic Greek had overtaken Latin as the principal literary language of the Roman Empire. This seems to be little noted by Classicists, where Latin scholars, in particular, may resolutely ignore the phenomenon. It must make them uneasy -- indeed, we get the impression from them (e.g. Frederic M. Wheelock) that all literature became religious, with the "Patristics," which means we find Latinists who are actually ignorant of Greek literature, dishonest, or suffering some kind of Freudian amnesia.

The greatest shift, of course, was when Greek became the language of the Court, the Army, and the Law, apparently starting with Heraclius, although there is quite a bit of Greek already in the Code of Justinian. That did not yet involve translating all the Latin laws into Greek -- although that began at the time also. This created the situation where the Franks, of the West, and Modern Europeans, began to refer to the Ῥωμαῖοι as "Greeks" or (after the Renaissance) "Byzantines." They can't really have been "Romans" without speaking Latin, I suppose -- even while Renaissance scholars, like Erasmus, were proud, very proud, of their own recently learned Greek. Yet it was in that era that the "Romanity" of Romania was denied, not just by the Church and German Emperors, but by secular scholars.

So, after a fashion, we come full circle. The Romans, who had not been conquered by Alexander, but who did conquer the Greeks, end up speaking Greek, with a significant way station in the Second Sophistic -- Marcus Aurelius and Julian were writing in Greek long before Heraclius.

Meanwhile, however, there had been another transformation. The Arab Conquest replaced Greek in the Middle East with a new common language, Arabic -- replacing, not just Greek, but also many of the older languages, such as (eventually) Syriac, Coptic, and Punic. Arabic retains its status even now, also influencing languages as far away as Malaya.

Greek left behind some fragments. Translators learned Greek to translate Greek philosophy into Arabic, and the Caliphs might solicit texts and even scholars from Constantinople, as we have seen. This provided some Greek vocabulary for literary Arabic. Thus, from Greek λῃστής, "robber," we get لِصّ, liṣṣ (plural, لُصُوص, luṣūṣ; feminine لِصَّة, liṣṣah -- another irregular or "broken" plural is أَلْصَاص, ʾalṣāṣ, which oddly sounds like the historic territory Alsace). In philosophy, we get a word like جِنْس, jins, "genus," from Greek γένος, which also ends up in Hindi as जिंस, pronounced as in Arabic, but with a nasalized "n."

Similarly, Greek left influence on Syriac, sometimes as an intermediate on the way to Arabic -- for instance that γένος had become Syriac gensā, ܓܸܢܣܵܐ (Eastern vowels; ܓܶܢܣܰܐ, Western vowels), in the Syriac translations of Greek philosophy -- but most visibly on Coptic, which adapted the Greek alphabet to write the language, used until today. Nevertheless, Greek left no daughter languages in the Middle East. At the same time, while the Latin alphabet is used for languages as far away as China, Japan, and Hawai'i, the only language that adoped the Greek alphabet for itself wholesale was, indeed, Coptic -- while Greek vowels were written in for the Western dialects of Syriac. Yet Coptic and Syriac exist now mainly for liturgical uses. Where the Slavic languages of Catholic Eastern Europe adopted the Latin alphabet, Orthodox Slavic countries, apart from România, have their own Cyrillic alphabet, helpfully supplied by Romania.

Latin, of course, fared very differently. Complete languages, like Gaulish, Iberoceltic, Etruscan, or Dacian, disappeared and were replaced by Latin. Indeed, we get a whole language family, the Romance languages, derived from Latin. The same kind of thing might have happened in Asia Minor, where Greek seems to have replaced the earlier languages, like Phyrgian, Carian, Hittite, etc. Indeed, one of the languages replaced was itself Celtic, like Gaulish, namely the tongue of Galatia. St. Paul, of course, wrote to the Galatians in Greek.

Even that modest expansion of Greek to the East was undone by the Turkish invasions and migrations. The last Greek speakers in Asia Minor were expelled after World War I. Outside Greece, this left only a few Greek speakers in Italy, whose small presence has been declining steadily.

Thus, unlike Latin, Greek was not the parent of a family of modern descendants. The only surviving Hellenophone land is Greece itself. As long as Romania had survived, there was a little more to that. Armenians, Albanians, Bulgarians, or Serbs who wanted a future in the government or culture in Constantinople still needed to learn Greek. Greek was the language of Romania and the Romans. The Fall of Constantinople, however, removed any such necessity; and the cultural heritage of the Greek language floated free from any geographical attachment -- especially as many Greek scholars decamped to Italy and elsewhere. Actual Greek speakers were just a "nation," a millet, within the Ottoman Empire, the Millet-ı-Rūm, (مِلَّةِ رُوم), albeit still bearing the Roman name.

Thus, the process that had begun with Greek colonization in the 8th century BC and that went into overdrive with the conquests of Alexander the Great came to an end when the last Hellenistic Kingdom, the Empire of Romania, itself came to an end. Modern Greek became the language of Greece; and Classical Greek became the common heritage of Western Civilization. The name of Romania itself got appropriated by the speakers of one of those Romance languages, its origin generally forgotten. It is a long and remarkable story, in which the Roman Empire was not even there at the beginning. But, by the end, the stories, of Greece and Rome, had become one. Yet the footprint of Latin now spans the globe, while Greek has retreated into esoteric research or tourism.

They follow similar trajectories. The Roman Empire grows from one City, Rome, becomes a vast realm, and then slowly shrinks down to another City, Constantinople. Greek follows a similar inflation, supremacy, with one foot as far away as Afghanistan, and then deflation. But as the spoken language collapses onto Modern Greece, the Classical language, although not actively written, boils off into a large, tenuous afterlife.

Physicians, biologists, and other scholars and scientists often reach for Greek to coin new specialized terms. Often lack of familiarity with the language is evident in malapropisms -- people who use terms like "Islamophobia" don't seem to understand that "phobia," φοβία, means "fear," not, as they seem to use it, "hatred." Words for kinds of government, like "democracy," δημοκρατία, are heavy with their history in the Greek language. Even the government of the Roman Republic is best described by the Greek historian Polybius -- whose principles are dangerously ignored in modern political science. But Greek is also an expression, for something not understood, that it is "Greek to me." So Classical Greek remains as a kind of ghostly cloud surrounding modern thought.

The Fate of the Holy Icons

After the Fall of Constantinople, the fate of the Holy Icons of the Παναγία, "All Holy," Virgin -- ἡ Θεοτόκος, the Mother of God -- that had protected Constantinople for centuries is of some interest.

The Ὁδηγήτρια, Hodēgētria Icon (the Virgin who "Shows the Way," by pointing at the Christ child), was kept at the Hodegon, Ὁδηγῶν, Monastery and displayed in a procession every Tuesday. This was supposed to have been painted by St. Luke and brought to Constantinople in 439 from Jerusalem by the Empress Ἁγία Ἀιλία Εὐδοκία Αὐγοῦστα, St. Aelia Eudocia Augusta. At the time of the Siege in 1453, it had been moved to the Church of St. Savior in Chora (subsequently the Kariye Mosque), to be closer to the Walls. What we hear is that after the breakthrough, the Turks stormed the Church and chopped up the Icon for souvenirs. The Hodegetria motif, however, was to be much reproduced, even in later Italian art.

The Βλαχερονίτισσα, Blacheronítissa -- or the Βλαχερωνίτισσα, Blacherōnítissa; or the Βλαχερνίτισσα, Blachernítissa; etc. (I have also seen Βλαχερνιώτισσα, Blacherniōtissa) -- Icon, in bas relief, and the Μαφόριον, Maphórion, the Robe or Veil of the Virgin, were kept at the Church of the Virgin Mary at Blachernae (Θεοτόκος τῶν Βλαχερνών), near the Walls. Blachernae, Βλαχέρναι (Regio XIV of Constantinople), was originally a suburb of Constantinople settled by Vlachs, Βλάχοι -- a matter of as much speculation and legend as of documentation -- which attests a rather early use of that term. Eventually it was enclosed by the Walls of the City, especially the great single wall around the Blachernae Palace and Church built by the Comneni.

By the time of the Comneni and Palaeologi, the Blachernae Palace had become the principal residence of the Emperors. The icon and relic had been brought out to protect the City during sieges -- the Maphórion is supposed to have repulsed the Avars in 626. Both disappeared with the Fall of the City -- although there is no mention of them after the Church burned in 1434:

The Blachernai church of the Virgin was burned beyond repair by a lightning strike sent by God, according to the Spanish traveler Pero Tafur (1438), to punish the frequent sodomy that was committed in it. [Kaldellis, The New Roman Empire, op.cit, p.902]

This means the Icon and the Maphórion may already have been destroyed. There is also a story, related by Robert de Clari (1170-1216) in his account of the Fourth Crusade, that the Βλαχερονίτισσα was captured from Alexius V in a skirmish, and it was then passed to the Cistercian Abbey of Citreaux. I have no information whether the Abbey claims to possess it now.

Nevertheless, one story is that the Icon was retained and survived and that Constantine XI was praying to it the night before the City fell, and as he watched, it was taken up to Heaven. He therefore knew what was going to happen the next day. It is a shame that this marvelous scene has not been reproduced in a movie or documentary.

Later, an icon turned up at Mt. Athōs that was believed, one way or another, to be the Blachernitissa. However, this icon was of a Hodegetria form, with the Virgin pointing to Christ, and the original Blachernitissa is thought to have shown the Virgin orans, i.e. with hands lifted in prayer, as we see at right, in an early (6th Century?) mosaic from Ravenna.

Such an icon in Greek would be the Παναγία Ὀρωμένη, with the same sense as in Latin, or the Παναγία Πλατυτέρα, the "All Holy More Expansive" (comparative of πλατύς, πλατεῖα, πλατύ, "wide, broad"). Naming the image in the icon is an Eastern habit, here in the Latin alphabet, but with a Greek mark, the line above, for an abbreviation (Sancta). Later, the orans icons included the Christ child on a "medallion" or "aureole," as we see on a seal at right, that may signify that he is still in the womb. Perhaps it came to be thought that Mary should not be shown without Jesus, but who not be held in this form of the image.

An interesting kind of icon that we don't see among these possibilities is the Γαλακτοτροφούσα, Galaktotrophoúsa, the "milk giver," i.e. Mary nursing Jesus. This was popular in Egypt, and now is seen in Ethiopia. Examples occur in Orthodox Europe, but it is not common; and it seems to be missing altogether from Latin Europe, except in paintings. Just as breast feeding in public makes some people, and some authorities, nervous, perhaps something of the sort is going on with this kind of icon in Europe -- although perhaps, in turn, icons as such are unusual in the Latin Church.

With a third icon, the story is a little different from the first two. This one is the Madonna Nicopeia, and it still exists, in St. Marc's Cathedral in Venice. The general impression is that it was looted from Constatinople in the Fourth Crusade, but there actually is no documentary evidence for this -- something generally true of all things looted from Constantinople. The looters didn't keep records. Since nothing else is known about its provenance, everything said about where it came from in Constantinople is entirely speculative.

The name, however, comes from Greek Νικοποιός, "Maker of Victory," so the icon would have been the ἡ Παναγία Νικοποιός (another interesting case, like Θεοτόκος above, where a Greek compound in the feminine gender nevertheless takes second declension endings, which are mostly masculine -- see further discussion of this below). From the name, it sounds like this is an icon that would have been carried into battle. Since that was one use of both the Hodēgētria and the Blachernitissa, some comment now confuses or identifies the Nicopeia with one of them. A good argument against this is that the syle of the Nicopeia is different. The Virgin simply holds the Christ child in her lap, and she isn't making the gestures that are characteristic of the other icons.

Ruling out those identifications, one claim we see is that the icon was kept at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, called ἐν τοῖς Στουδίου, "in the [things, of] Studius," after its founder, Studius, Στουδίος, in the 5th century (in ruins, it is nevertheless in Turkish the Imrahor Camii). I am not aware of any basis for this claim. More interesting is the claim I see on the Wikipedia page about St. Olaf of Norway, that the Nicopeia was kept in the Varangian Church that was in part dedicated to St. Olaf, which we have previously noted, and thus was in the care of the Varangian Guard and was carried into battle by them in particular. I would like to think that this is true, but it is still just speculation. If so, this may actually be the Icon also called the Varangiṓtissa, Βαραγγιώτισσα, the Virgin of the Varangians. Since the church was only founded in the 12th century, the ultimate origin of the icon is another question.

Similar to the fate of the Icons is the question about the Imperial burials. For more than a thousand years, Roman Emperors were buried in Constantinople. Most were at the Church of the Holy Apostles. The Crusaders had looted the burials, looking for treasure. And then the Ottomans demolished the Church, upon whose ruins the Fatih Mosque of Meḥmed II was built, with his own burial. Most of the details of this issue I have discussed on the page about the Ottomans, with a treatment in the text and in a footnote.

The Fate of the Palaeologi

I see the surname Palaeologus first turn up in Roman history with the marriage of George Palaeologus to Anna, a great-niece of the Emperor Constantine X Ducas.

I had some trouble putting together the descent of the Palaeologi, but a diagram gives the full story in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Volume III [Alexander P. Kazhdan, Editor in Chief, Oxford University Press, 1991, p.1558]. The diagram does not give dates, and I have not been able to otherwise find them for many of the early figures.

Byzantine histories often do not show that Michael VIII married two illegitimate daughters to Mongols, one, Euphrosyne, to a general of the Great Khans, another, Maria, to the second Il Khān, even though the Mongols were polygamous non-Christians. The marriages did not lead to any Roman Mongol Khāns. Both women seem to have returned to Constantinople after the deaths of their husbands. Maria restored and ran the monastery Saint Mary of the Mongols, Θεοτόκος Μουχλιώτισσα, in Constantinople, which survives until today, having never been turned into a mosque by the Ottomans.

There are some obscure references in Andreas Thiele and at Wikipedia that I have not been able to figure out. For instance, a younger brother of Alexius I Comnenus, Adrianus, married Zoe Ducaena, a daughter of Constantine X Ducas. Their descendants are not shown in The Oxford Dictionary, but references to them, without details, turn up in other venues. It does not help that there are several Alexii and Irenae here.

The surname Palaeologus survives today, but it is not clear that any modern Palaeologi are descendants of the Imperial family. In the genealogy, we see considerable intermarriage outside the Empire, even to Tsars of Bulgaria. The marriage of Zoë-Sophia to Ivan III of Moscow is the one most filled with portent, but the last Russian Tsar to be their descendant was Theodore I (1584-1598).

John Julius Norwich (Byzantium, The Decline and Fall, Knopf, 1996, pp.447-448) notes that there is buried in St. Leonard's church in Landulph, Cornwall, England a "Theodore Paleologus" (d.1636) from Italy, who is said to have been a direct descendant of John, son of Thomas, Despot of the Morea. However, Thomas is not known to have had a son John, and so the claim of descent, regardless of any other merits, is questionable. Theodore had a son Ferdinand, who died in Barbados in 1678. Ferdinand had a son "Theodorious," who returned to England and died in 1693, leaving a daughter, "Godscall," whose fate is unknown.

What John Norwich seems to have missed is that there were undoubted lines of Palaeologi -- Paleologhi -- in Italy, descended from the Emperor Andronicus II, whose second wife was Yolanda, the Heiress of the Margraves of Montferrat. While Andronicus's eldest son succeeded in Constantinople, his son by Yolanda, Theodore, succeeded to Montferrat. The main line of the Palaeologi of Montferrat continued until the death of the Marchioness Margaret in 1556. But at least one illegitimate collateral line, the Paleologhi-Oriundi, continues into the 21st century.

At the same time, Margaret married the Duke Frederick II Gonzaga of Mantua. The Gonzaga line later led to Savoy, then Lorraine, and finally to the Hapsburgs, as the Heiress Maria Theresa married Duke Francis I of Lorraine. Thus, all subsequent Hapsburgs, and there are many of them still, are descendants of Margaret Palaeologina, and the Gonzaga name itself can be found in Vienna and, because of Saint Aloysius de Gonzaga, in other locations of Catholic piety.

The Palaeologi are covered in the Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, Volume II, Part 2, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser II Nord-, Ost- und Südeuropa [Andreas Thiele, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Part 2, Second Edition, 1997, pp.260-261], which, however, only indicates that the collateral lines continue after the 16th century. The Theodore buried in Cornwall could very well have simply gotten confused about his genealogy. He might have been a genuine Paleologo from Italy but lost track of how that worked.

Maurice Paléologue (1859-1944) was a French diplomat. His name derived from his birthplace, in România, where, illegitimate, he was given the surname of his maternal grandmother, Zoë Paleologu. There is no evidence that the Românian Paleologu were descendants of Greek Palaeologi, but many Greeks lived in Wallachia and Moldavia during the Ottoman period, and there is no reason why some of them should not have been Palaeologi, whether of Imperial descent or not. Because Paléologue was the French Ambassador to Russia, 1914-1917, fatefully during World War I, we see his name in Cyrillic:  Палеологь. I cannot say if this version of the name in Russian simply transcribes the French name or if it is actually the Russian form of Greek Palaiologos.


Note that the name "Romania," the proper name of the Roman Empire since the 4th century AD, was not used for modern România until 1859, when the Kingdom of Roumania (at first, or Rumania) was unified, autonomous, and then independent, in 1881. This name was at first written in the Cyrillic alphabet, a version of which we still see in the Russian form of "Romania," as Румыния, which retains the "u" that certainly reflects the original Turkish influence. Indeed, as Ῥωμανία is reserved for the Roman Empire in Modern Greek, Ῥουμανία means modern România.

Written Românian is attested no earlier than 1521. Looking at Russian, we could imagine that "România" might have been written more like Роумыниа or Роуманиа. But the orthography of Românian, such as it would have been, was closer to Old Church Slavonic than to Russian. Old Church Slavonic did not have the Russian "ya," я, but it did have ѣ, with the same value, which might have given us versions of "România" as Роумыниѣ or Роуманиѣ. However, in the actual Românian version of the alphabet, ѣ does not have the same value, but is "ea," as we see in the diagram. What this means for how "România" would have been written in Cyrllic, I cannot say.

The vowel ы was not an Old Church Slavonic or Bulgarian vowel. It does occur in Românian, but, among many writings, using a specifically Românian version of the Cyrillic alphabet, "România" would have been something like Рȣмѫниа (), where we get ѫ in place of ы, with the equivalent phonetic value. If we add a "y" as a palatal glide, we could get Рȣмѫнийа.

The most interesting letter here is ȣ (), which is an Old Church Slavonic ligature f