The Byzantine Emperors ruled for a thousand years during the darkest days of Western Europe, but much of their history remains below the radar of popular awareness. Here are a few interesting facts about the emperors.

  1. Leo I (457-474) sometimes sounded like a flower child: “May it happen in my time that the pay of the soldiers is handed over to the teachers,” he is said to have uttered.
  2. Constantius II (337-361) was known for exceptionally elegant manners. Ammianus remarked that the Emperor never spat in public.
  3. The characteristic baubles pendilia which hung from the Emperors’ crowns began with Marcian (450-457). Although the years saw the styles of crown change, the pendilia remained, at least through Manuel II (d. 1425).
  4. Jovian (363-364) never ruled from Constantinople. On Julian’s death, he was proclaimed emperor by the army, negotiated a peace with the Persians, but then died of apparent natural causes on the way back to the capital.
  5. Although we think of Constantine I the Great (306-337) as the first “Byzantine” emperor, he actually spent most of his reign as Emperor of the Western Roman Empire.
  6. The only instance in Byzantine history of a father succeeding his son as Emperor was Zeno the Isaurian (474-491) succeeding Leo II (474) after the latter died of some childhood disease.
  7. The first Byzantine emperor to lose the throne by violent revolution was Mavrikios (Maurice) Tiberius (586-602). The army, led by Phokas, rebelled and entered the city with the collusion of the city militia.
  8. Phokas (602-610) was probably one of the cruelest of the Emperors as well as one of the most incompetent. He compelled the deposed Maurice to observe the execution of the latter’s sons, the youngest just a baby, before being killed himself. He was described as being physically very ugly. Phokas began a fashion followed by almost every adult emperor that succeeded him: wearing a beard.
  9. The emperor with the longest beard was probably Constantine III (641-668).
  10. Herakleios (610-641) was known for his military prowess with the Persians. However, he was so afraid of water that he took months to get up the courage to cross the Bosporus and finally could do so only after having a bridge built of boats heavily camoulflaged by shrubbery.
  11. When Phillipikos Vardan (711-713) was deposed, rhinokopia since having been proved ineffective, he was blinded
  12. .Justinian II Rhinotmetos (685-695 and 705-711) was first deposed by Leontios, who subjected the defeated monarch to a typical punishment for same: rhinokopia, or mutilation of the nose. The sobriquet “Rhinotmetos” means “cut nose.” After this, rhinokopia was never used again.
  13. Emperor Irene of Athens (797-802) was certainly no paragon of maternal love. To secure the power of the throne, she had her son Constantine VI (780-797) blinded and then imprisoned him for life in the room in which he was born. Irene was the first Byzantine or Roman woman to rule the Empire alone and specifically took the title of “Emperor,” not “Empress.”
  14. Theodosios III, the Reluctant (715-717), was forced by conspirators to take the crown, probably because they thought their chance of success so wobbly that they needed to have a puppet to take the fall if the coup failed. He retired to a monastery, where he was much happier and successful and came to be regarded as an Orthodox saint.
  15. Nikephoros I (802-811), who overthrew Irene, was killed in war against the Bulgars. The victorious King Krum had the dead Roman Emperor’s skull made into a silver-lined goblet from which visiting Byzantine ambassadors were thereafter forced to drink a toast.
  16. A political marriage between the Byzantine state and Western Europe did not take place until the time of John I Tzimiskes (969-976), who sent a Byzantine princess to marry Holy Roman Emperor Otho II.
  17. Michael II of Amorion (820-829) was freed from prison by his supporters, who had killed his predecessor Leo V Gnuni, the Armenian (813-820). .
  18. Constantine VIII (1025-1028) was reported to be nine feet tall, but this is almost certainly an exaggeration.
  19. The first Byzantine emperor to have a family surname was Michael I Rhangabe (811-813).
  20. The longest continuously reigning Byzantine monarch was Basil II Bulgaroctonus (976-1025).
  21. The great emperor Basil I, the Macedonian (867-886), was killed in a freak mishap. While hunting, he was thrown from his horse and impaled on the horns of a stag, which carried him for sixteen miles before it was hunted down.
  22. Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180) was particularly interested in medicine. 
  23. The longest Byzantine dynasty, almost two hundred years, was also its last. The Palaiologos dynasty began with Michael VIII,and ended with Constantine XI.
  24. John III Doukas Vatatzes was an epileptic.
  25. Manuel II Palaiologos (1392-1425) was said to be a splendid sight.