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Friday, March 5, 2021

The Tragic Deaths of the Byzantine Emperors – Part 1

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This is a list of XII (Byzantine) Eastern Roman Emperors that had been the main target of a plot, had been deposed, assassinated or had been a victim of any kind of misfortune that didn’t end their life naturally. This list does not contain the achievements of the emperors during their reign, just the tragic end that befell on them during their rule.

I. Maurice (582-602)

In 602, Maurice, always dealing with the lack of money, decreed that the army should stay for winter beyond the Danube, which would prove to be a serious mistake. The exhausted troops mutinied against the Emperor. Probably misjudging the situation, Maurice repeatedly ordered his troops to start a new offensive rather than returning to winter quarters. After a while, his troops gained the impression that Maurice no longer mastered the situation, proclaimed Phocas their leader, and demanded that Maurice abdicate and proclaim as successor either his son Theodosius or General Germanus. Both men were accused of treason, but riots broke out in Constantinople, and the emperor left the city with his family for Nicomedia. Theodosius headed east to Persia. Phocas entered Constantinople in November and was crowned Emperor, while his troops captured Maurice and his family. Maurice was murdered on 27 November 602 (some say 23 November). It is said that the deposed emperor was forced to watch his six sons getting executed before he was beheaded himself.

II. Phocas (602-610)

Carthaginian Exarch Heraclius rose against Phocas new fearful government, and when joined by Egypt was able to send a fleet under the command of his son Heraclius the younger to Constantinople . The islands and the ports Heraclius visited with his fleet on the road to Constantinople were greeted by enthusiastic natives among the population. On October 3 610 C.E., his ships appeared under the walls of Constantinople. Here hailed as a liberator, he soon ended Phocas government on October 5, and by the hands of the Patriarch, Heraclius received the crown. Enraged, he personally killed and beheaded Phocas on the spot. Phocas’s body was mutilated, paraded through the capital, and later burned.

III. Constans II (641-668)

In his surroundings there were many conspiracies and rumors regarding him, until on the 15 September 668 in the bathroom, he got killed by one of his servants. Representatives who participated in the plot were of prominent Byzantine and Armenian families, but one member of Armenian decent was to be declared by the army emperor after the death of Constans. This attempt to declare was soon crushed

IV. Justinian II (1st reign 685-695, 2nd reign 705-711)

At the end of the year 695 а  rebellion broke out against the government of Justinian II where the party of the blue, declared Leonitus emperor and strategist of the new theme Hellas. Mentioned associates of Justinian had fallen prey to popular indignation, and Junstinians nose had been cut off. The deposed and crippled Emperor had been driven into exile in Kherson. After the fall of Leontius, Justinian II regained the throne, but this again was to be short lived. After a penal expedition of 709 C.E. in Ravenna in late 710 C.E. or early 711 C.E. there was an uprising, Justinian sent a similar expedition in Kherson, his former place of exile. Here vengeance was more fierce, and it would cost Justinian II his head. At First the rebellion had affected the population of Kherson, and then it extended to the imperial army and navy. The rebellion had also been supported by the Khazars, whose government, meanwhile extended control over the Crimean Peninsula. The Armenian Bardanes had been declared  Emperor when he arrived with his fleet  before Constantinople earlier in 711 C.E., the capital had opened the gate for him. There was no longer anyone who would defend Justinian. The rejected Emperor  was killed by one of his officers. Justinian’s head was sent to Rome and Ravenna, and displayed in a prominent public place. His younger son Tiberius was also killed.

V. Leontius (695-698)

In 697 the Arabians conquered Carthage. The fleet sent by Emperor Leontius managed to regain the city, but next spring from the sea and from land arrived Arabian reinforced contingents where the Byzantines were forced to retreat. The Byzantine fleet rebelled against Leontius and  declared a new emperor who ascended the throne as Tiberius II.  Leontius was imprisoned in a monastery and just like Justinian II his nose had been cut off.

VI. Philippikos Bardanes (711-713)

In late May 713 the Opsikion troops rebelled in Thrace. Several of their officers penetrated the city and blinded Philippicus on June 3, 713 while he was in the hippodrome.

VII. Nikephorus I (802-811)

In 811 Nikephoros invaded Bulgaria, defeated Krum twice, and sacked the Bulgarian capital Pliska; however, during Nikephoros’ retreat, the Byzantine army was ambushed and destroyed in the Varbishki mountain passes on July 26 by Krum. Nikephoros was captured during the battle and sent to Pliska, where Krum ordered his decapitation. Krum was said to have made a drinking-cup off of Nikephoros’ skull.

VIII. Leon V (813-820)

When Leo jailed Michael for suspicion of conspiracy, the latter organized the assassination of the Emperor in the palace chapel of St. Stephen on Christmas, 820. Leo was attending the matins service when a group of assassins disguised as monks suddenly threw off their robes and drew their weapons. In the dim light they mistook the officiating priest for the Emperor and the confusion allowed Leo to snatch a heavy cross from the altar and defend himself. He called for his guards, but the conspirators had barred the doors and within a few moments a sword stroke had severed his arm, and he fell before the communion-table, where his body was hewed in pieces. His remains were dumped unceremoniously in the snow and the assassins hurried to the dungeons to free Michael II. Unfortunately for them Leo had hidden the key on his body, and since it was too early in the morning to find a blacksmith Michael was hastily crowned as Emperor with the iron clasps still around his legs. Leon’s four sons were castrated, a procedure so brutally carried out that one of them died during the “operation”.

IX. Michael III (842-867)

To his misfortune Michael III befriended Basil ,, the Macedonian ”. Basil was born in the theme of Macedonia and grew up in extreme poverty. Seeking happiness he came to Constantinople and here, thanks to his great physical strength he became a companion of the royal court. Thus began his extraordinary elevation, which he had to thank to his capabilities, and the king’s temperament. He became the most intimate friend of Michael III and the husband of his mistress Eudokia Ingerinia. With iron energy, not stopping before anything, he aspired to the highest power. Because of this he came into conflict with the Caesar Bardas, but Michael III succumbed to the influence of his favorite and without hesitation sacrificed his uncle. With deception and perjury Basil and Michael III managed to lure Caesar Varda into a trap: in the campaign in Crete, at time of rest, the Caesar sat on the throne next to his nephew’s sister, Basil attacked him from behind his back and killed him with his own hand (21 April 866). The award was the title of Caesar,  which the crown ruler Michael III had gifted to him after returning to Constantinople on 26 May 866. Now Basil received from Michael what this man could give him most. The last act of the bloody tragedy is accelerated by Michael III. As temperamental as Michael was,  he began to change the mood towards the new co-ruler. The night between 23 and 24 September 867, after his court feast, Basil and his friends killed the drunken Emperor Michael III in his bed-chamber.

X. Basil I (867-886)

Basil died on August 29, 886 from a fever contracted after a serious hunting accident when his belt was caught in the antlers of a deer. He was allegedly dragged 16 miles through the woods. Eventually he was saved by an attendant who cut him loose with a knife, but he suspected the attendant of trying to assassinate him and had the man executed shortly before he himself died.

XI. Romanos II (959-963)

After a lengthy hunting expedition, Romanos II took ill and died on March 15, 963. Rumor attributed his death to poison administered by his wife Theophano.

XII. Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969)

With mounting unrest around him, his second wife Theophano took as her lover, general John Tzimiskes. Theophano and Tzimiskes would meet in secret and plot Nikephoros’ death, with the plot eventually growing to include others. On a stormy night, the conspirators went into the palace dressed as women. Nikephoros was warned that assassins were in the palace, and he demanded the palace be searched but guards left the room of the empress unsearched, and the assassins avoided capture. Later that night when Nikephorus was asleep on the floor before the holy icons, Tzimiskes and the others sneaked into his bed-chamber, alarmed at first to find the bed empty because Nikephoros frequently slept on the floor. Aroused by the noise, Nikephoros rose just as one of the assassins swung his sword in an attempt to decapitate him. It struck him in the face, and he was then dragged to the foot of the bed, his head was cut off and paraded on a spike, while his body was thrown out the window. He was buried at the Church of the Holy Apostles, and John Tzimiskes became Emperor John I. An inscription carved on the side of his tomb reads: “You conquered all but a woman”







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