List of Byzantine usurpers

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The following is a list of usurpers in the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire, from the start of the reign of Arcadius in 395 to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Rebellions, conspiracies and usurpation attempts were so notoriously frequent that the term "Byzantine" became a byword for political intrigue and conspiracy.

Contents

Usurper emperors[edit]

The following is a listing of Byzantine emperors who rose to the throne due to their own initiative through a revolt or coup d'état.

Unsuccessful usurpers in the 5th and 6th centuries[edit]

List of to be emperors eventually defeated by the ruling sovereign, listed by reign. The noted date is the attempted usurpation.

Zeno: 474–491[edit]

  • Marcian (479) – Leo I's son–in–law, who resented the accession of Zeno. Captured the imperial palace but was in turn captured. Spent the rest of his life imprisoned in a fortress in Isauria.
  • Leontius (484–488) – An Isaurian commander who was called on to put down the rebel Illus but declared himself emperor instead. He died after a four year siege of the fortress of Papurius.

Anastasius I: 491–518[edit]

  • Longinus (491–492) – Brother of the Emperor Zeno, he launched a rebellion to enforce his claim to the throne but was defeated and fled to Egypt where he died.
  • Areobindus (512) – Proclaimed emperor during a riot at Constantinople, but refused to accept the nomination.

Justin I: 518–527[edit]

Justinian I: 527–565[edit]

  • Julianus ben Sabar (529–531) – Leader of a Samaritan revolt, proclaimed "King of Israel". Managed to control the entire Samaria before being defeated.
  • Hypatius (532) – A nephew of Anastasius I who was acclaimed emperor during the Nika riots.
  • Stotzas (536–545) – A Byzantine soldier who was elected the leader of rebel troops in the recently conquered Vandal Kingdom of Africa. Aiming to establish a new kingdom, he was defeated on a number of occasions before finally being defeated and mortally wounded in 545.
  • John Cottistis (537) – Usurper in Mesopotamia, he was an infantry soldier who was acclaimed emperor by his troops, but was killed after four days by imperial forces at Dara.

Unsuccessful usurpers in the 7th century[edit]

Heraclius: 610–641[edit]

  • Comentiolus (610–611) – the brother of Phocas, he refused to acknowledge Heraclius' accession and planned to enforce his claim to the throne. He was eventually assassinated.
  • John of Conza (617) – described as a tyrannus (a term meaning usurper), he captured Naples but was defeated and killed by Eleutherius, the Exarch of Ravenna.
  • Eleutherius (619) – the Exarch of Ravenna, he was a eunuch who set up his capital at Rome, but was murdered by his own troops.
  • John Athalarichos (635) – The illegitimate son of Heraclius, he plotted to overthrow his father, but the scheme was uncovered prior to execution. He was mutilated and exiled.

Constans II: 641–668[edit]

Constantine IV: 668–685[edit]

  • Mezezius (668–669) – Commander of the Opsikion theme, he was chosen by the court at Sicily to replace the murdered Constans II. He was eventually executed by forces loyal to Constantine IV.

Unsuccessful usurpers in the 8th century[edit]

Justinian II: 685–695 and 705–711[edit]

Leo III: 717–741[edit]

Constantine V: 741–775[edit]

  • Artabasdos and Nikephoros (742–743) – count of the Opsikion theme and the brother–in–law of Constantine V, Artabasdos usurped the throne while Constantine was in Asia Minor. His son Nikephoros was made co–emperor with him at the same time. He reversed Constantine's iconoclast policies, but his armies were defeated. He was blinded and banished to a monastery.

Leo IV the Khazar: 775–780[edit]

  • Nikephoros (776) – Leo IV's half–brother, he attempted to usurp the throne, but was stripped of his rank when it was uncovered.

Constantine VI: 780–797[edit]

  • Nikephoros (780) and (792) – The eldest of Constantine V's surviving sons, Nikephoros was the focus of several pro-iconoclastic plots: in 780 he attempted to mount the throne after the death of Leo IV, but was prevented by Irene, and he was ordained a priest. Then in 792, some of the imperial tagmata proclaimed Nikephoros as emperor. He was captured by Constantine VI and blinded before being imprisoned in a monastery.
  • Elpidios (782) – appointed strategos in Sicily, he was accused of disloyalty, and refused to return to the capital, holding out against imperial forces sent to bring him back.

Irene: 797–802[edit]

  • Nikephoros (797) and (799) – Although blinded, Nikephoros was still involved in imperial conspiracies. In 797, he materialized in Hagia Sophia, hoping to inspire the populace to support his bid for the throne. It failed and he was banished to Athens. Then in 799, local troops planned to proclaim him emperor, but again it failed.
  • Staurakios (799–800) – a eunuch who served Irene, he planned to usurp the throne after falling from favor, launching a revolt in Cappadocia. He died before the revolt was suppressed.

Unsuccessful usurpers in the 9th century[edit]

Nikephoros I: 802–811[edit]

  • Bardanes Tourkos (803) – the monostrategos in Anatolia, he used the army's discontent over Nikephoros' financial policies to declare himself emperor. Deserted by his commanders, and unable to obtain support in Constantinople he surrendered and was blinded.
  • Arsaber (808) – a group of secular and ecclesiastic officials, who were dissatisfied with Nikephoros formed a conspiracy and acclaimed Arsaber, a nobleman holding the rank of patrikios, as emperor. The plot was discovered and Arsaber was tonsured and exiled to a monastery in Bithynia.

Michael I Rangabe: 811–813[edit]

  • Nikephoros (812) – for the sixth time, Nikephoros was involved in a plot for the imperial throne, this time with a group of disgruntled soldiers who tried to proclaim him emperor. The soldiers were disbanded and Nikephoros was moved to the island of Aphousia.

Michael II: 820–829[edit]

  • Thomas the Slav (821–823) – a bitter rival of Michael II, Thomas assumed the identity of Constantine VI and gathered an army. He besieged Constantinople, but was forced to retreat to Arcadiopolis where he surrendered. He was later executed.
  • Euphemius (826–827) – a Byzantine admiral who killed the governor in Sicily and proclaimed himself emperor, forming an alliance with the Arabs. He died after a skirmish with imperial troops.

Theophilos: 829–842[edit]

Michael III: 842–867[edit]

Basil I: 867–886[edit]

Unsuccessful usurpers in the 10th century[edit]

Leo VI the Wise: 886–912[edit]

Constantine VII: 913–959[edit]

Nikephoros II: 963–969[edit]

  • Kalokyros (968–971) – a patrician who was dispatched to the court of Sviatoslav I of Kiev in order to persuade him to launch an invasion of the First Bulgarian Empire, with which Byzantium was at war. Sviatoslav agreed to support Kalokyros in his ambition of gaining the imperial throne, but Kalokyros was captured and executed.

John I Tzimiskes: 969–976[edit]

Basil II: 976–1025[edit]

Unsuccessful usurpers in the 11th century[edit]

Constantine VIII: 1025–1028[edit]

Romanos III Argyros: 1028–1034[edit]

  • Constantine Diogenes (1029 and 1032) – the doux of Thessalonica, Bulgaria and Serbia, he was accused of conspiring against Romanos III, imprisoned and blinded. Then in 1032 he planned to take advantage of Romanos' absence on campaign in the East to escape to the Balkans and make a new bid to topple Romanos. The plot was discovered and Constantine committed suicide.
  • Basil Skleros (1033) – Second attempt. Promoted to the position of magistros by his brother-in-law, Romanos III Argyros, he plotted against Romanos, and this time was exiled.

Michael IV the Paphlagonian: 1034–1041[edit]

Constantine IX: 1042–1055[edit]

  • Argyrus (1042) – led the continuing Lombard revolt in southern Italy, but he too defected to the Byzantines, after being offered the position of Catepan of Italy.
  • Theophilos Erotikos (1042) – the governor of Cyprus, he took advantage of the fall of Michael V to launch a rebellion. He was arrested and had his goods confiscated before being released.
  • George Maniakes (1042–1043) – the Catepan of Italy, he was systematically reclaiming territory in Southern Italy when he was recalled to Constantinople. Furious, he rebelled, and although he destroyed an army sent to capture him, he was wounded during the battle and died.
  • Stephanos Pergamenos (1043) – the sebastophoros, he rebelled in Byzantine Armenia.
  • Leo Tornikios (1047) – Constantine IX's nephew and the strategos of Iberia, he proclaimed himself emperor at Adrianople and almost took the city of Constantinople. Forced to retreat, he was captured and blinded.
  • Nikephoros Kampanares (1050) – a thematic judge and eparchos, he was banished by the emperor on suspicion of plotting to overthrow him, but was later recalled.
  • Romanos Boilas (1051) – a senator and commander of the imperial bodyguard, he was a favourite of the emperor. He attempted to assassinate Constantine IX because he was in love with Constantine's mistress. The emperor pardoned him.
  • Constantine Barys (1052) – He was exiled by Constantine IX for suspicion of plotting to take the throne. Whilst in exile he prepared to rebel against the emperor, and sought the advice of Saint Lazaros. The plot was discovered and he ended up losing his tongue.

Theodora: 1055–1056[edit]

Michael VI Stratiotikos: 1056–1057[edit]

Michael VII Doukas: 1071–1078[edit]

  • Philaretos Brachamios (1071–1078) – On the death of Romanos IV Diogenes, he was acclaimed emperor by his troops and established an independent realm in Germanicia. He abandoned his imperial claims in 1078 in exchange for the title of doux of Antioch.
  • Constantine Bodin (1072) – Leader of a revolt in Bulgaria, he was crowned Emperor of the Bulgarians under the name Peter III. He was captured and taken prisoner to Constantinople before being moved to Antioch.
  • John Doukas (1074) – Michael VII's uncle, he was sent to deal with the rebellion of some Norman mercenaries, but was defeated and captured. The Normans convinced him to become emperor, forcing Michael VII to appeal to the Seljuk Turks for aid. They defeated John Doukas and captured him.
  • Nestor (1076–1078) – A former slave of Constantine X, he had been promoted to become the dux of Paradunavum, on the region bordering the Danube. Having had much of his property and wealth confiscated by the minister Nikephoritzes, he rebelled in around 1076, placing himself at the head of the garrisons under his command, which were already in a state of mutiny due to an arrears in their pay. The troops were eager to plunder the Bulgarians, and he obtained the assistance of one of the chiefs of the Patzinaks before marching onto Constantinople. The rebels demanded the dismissal of Nikephoritzes, but discovering that he did not have the numbers to attack the capital, his troops separated into smaller parties, and proceeded to plunder Thrace. Defeated by Alexios Komnenos in 1078, Nestor remained with the Patzinaks, and retreated with them back to Paradunavum.
  • Levon Davatanos (1077–1078) – the doux of Edessa, he launched an unsuccessful rebellion in the city.
  • Nikephoros Bryennios (1077–1078) – a Byzantine general. News that Michael's chief minister, Nikephoritzes, had listed him for assassination, encouraged him to make his bid for the throne. He was beaten to the throne by Nikephoros III Botaneiates and defeated at Kalavrye by Alexios Komnenos.

Nikephoros III Botaneiates: 1078–1081[edit]

Alexios I Komnenos: 1081–1118[edit]

  • Raiktor (1081) – an Eastern Orthodox monk who assumed the identity of Michael VII, and was used by the Norman Robert Guiscard to justify an attack on the Byzantine Empire.
  • Constantine Humbertopoulos (1091) – of Norman descent, he was a mercenary captain whose decision to support Alexios secured him the throne. He was promoted before conspiring against Alexios with an Armenian called Ariebes and was banished.
  • Emir Tzachas of Smyrna (1092) – a Seljuk Turkish emir based in Smyrna who claimed the imperial title.
  • John Komnenos (1092) – the doux of Dyrrhachium, he was accused by Theophylact of Bulgaria of plotting against the Emperor.
  • Karykes (1093) – the governor of Crete, he launched a simultaneous revolt with Rhapsomates against Alexios. News of the imperial fleet's approach caused a counter-coup that overthrew him, during which he was murdered.
  • Rhapsomates (1093) – the governor of Cyprus, he also rebelled against Alexios I. He defended Cyprus, but desertions in his ranks saw him attempt to flee, whereupon he was captured after seeking refuge in a church.
  • Michael Taronites (1094) – Alexios' brother-in-law, he was convicted of conspiring against Alexios and banished.
  • Pseudo-Constantine Diogenes (1094) – A pretender who claimed to be the dead son of Romanos IV Diogenes, Constantine led the Cumans who crossed the Balkan mountains and raided into eastern Thrace. He was killed at Adrianople.
  • Nikephoros Diogenes (1094) – the son of Romanos IV Diogenes and a former co-emperor, he had been made governor of Crete by Alexios I. He attempted to murder Alexios twice, but both times he failed, the second time he was caught red-handed with the sword. He was blinded.
  • Theodore Gabras (1096–1098) – the doux of Chaldia, achieved a level of semi-autonomy before Alexios I managed to reclaim some imperial control.
  • Gregory Taronites (1104) – the doux of Chaldia, he tried to take advantage of his province's relative isolation by trying to make himself an independent ruler. Was defeated and captured.
  • Michael Anemas (1105) – Along with his brothers and a senator named Salomon, he plotted against Alexios I, but the conspiracy was uncovered, resulting in Michael's imprisonment.
  • Aron (1107) – The illegitimate descendant of a Bulgarian prince, he formed a plot to murder Alexios as he was encamped near Thessalonica, but the presence of the empress Irene and her attendants made this difficult. In an attempt to have her return to Constantinople, the conspirators produced pamphlets that mocked and slandered the empress, and left them in her tent. A search for the author of the publications uncovered the whole plot, resulting in Aron's banishment.
  • Pseudo-Leo Diogenes (1116) – Another pretender claiming to be a son of Romanos IV Diogenes, he was the son-in-law of Vladimir II Monomakh, and attempted to overthrow Byzantine authority in Bulgaria.

Unsuccessful usurpers in the 12th century[edit]

John II Komnenos: 1118–1143[edit]

Manuel I Komnenos: 1143–1180[edit]

  • Thoros (1145–1169) – a usurper in Cilicia, he escaped from imprisonment in Constantinople and re-established an independent Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, which had been brought back under imperial control by John II Komnenos. He successfully repulsed a number of military expeditions launched by Manuel I.
  • Andronikos Komnenos (1154) – a cousin of Manuel I, he plotted to overthrow Manuel with the support of King Géza II of Hungary who invaded the empire. Andonikos was arrested and confined by the emperor.
  • Alexios Axouch (1167) – the grand-nephew of Manuel I and governor of Cilicia, he was accused of conspiring against the emperor and was confined to a monastery for the rest of his life.

Alexios II Komnenos: 1180–1183[edit]

Andronikos I Komnenos: 1183–1185[edit]

  • Andronikos Lampardas (1183) – a Byzantine general, he rebelled when he heard news of Andronikos I's usurpation and murder of Alexios II Komnenos. Attempting to raise forces in Asia Minor, he was captured by officials loyal to Andronikos I and was blinded and soon afterwards killed.
  • Theodore Kantakouzenos (1184) – the governor of Prussa, he attempted to assassinate Andronikos, but his horse stumbled during the attempt, throwing Theodore to the ground. He was beheaded by Andronikos' guard.
  • Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus (1184–1191) – a minor member of the Komnenos family, he hired a troop of mercenaries and sailed to Cyprus with falsified letters commanding Byzantine officials to obey him. He was crowned emperor and brutally terrorised the island. He was eventually overthrown by Richard I of England, who captured Cyprus on his way to the Holy Land during the Third Crusade.
  • Alexios Komnenos (1185) – the grandnephew of Manuel I Komnenos and his cup-bearer, he was banished by Andronikos Komnenos, but fled to the court of William II of Sicily. There, he obtained William's support for his claim to the throne, and William used this to launch a Norman invasion of the empire, culminating in the capture of Thessalonica.
  • Alexios Komnenos (1185) – the illegitimate son of Manuel I Komnenos (as well as being Andronikos' son-in-law), he was promoted as emperor by the Sebastianus brothers, but Alexios was taken and blinded. He was later accused of conspiring with Andronikos Komnenos and forced to take Holy Orders.

Isaac II Angelos: 1185–1195[edit]

Alexios III Angelos: 1195–1203[edit]

Unsuccessful usurpers in the 13th century[edit]

Alexios IV Angelos: 1203–1204[edit]

Theodore I Laskaris: 1204/5–1221[edit]

John III Doukas Vatatzes: 1221–1254[edit]

Michael VIII Palaiologos: 1259–1282[edit]

  • Pseudo-John IV Laskaris (1262) – the treatment of John IV Laskaris by Michael VIII saw an uprising occur at Nicaea under a pretender who claimed he was the boy, forcing Michael to drag out the real John IV to disprove the pretender's claims.
  • John Doukas (1280) – the Ruler of Thessaly, he was appointed sebastokrator by Michael VIII, but the alliance between the two was always uneasy. He became the champion of the anti-union forces, and in 1280 he nominated himself as the Orthodox emperor of the empire, but Michael was able to hold on to power.

Andronikos II Palaiologos: 1282–1328[edit]

Unsuccessful usurpers in the 14th and 15th centuries[edit]

Andronikos III Palaiologos: 1328–1341[edit]

  • Syrgiannes Palaiologos (1333–1334) – the governor of Thessalonica, he was suspected of plotting for the throne when he was adopted by Maria, the mother of Andronikos III in 1333. He fled to the court of the Serbian king, Stephen Dušan, who gave him a large Serbian army. He invaded the empire but was eventually murdered.

John V Palaiologos: 1341–1391[edit]

Manuel II Palaiologos: 1391–1425[edit]

John VIII Palaiologos: 1425–1448[edit]

  • Demetrios Palaiologos (1442 and 1448) – the brother of John VIII, he claimed the throne in 1442 based on his status as a porphyrogennetos. Although he attempted to harness the anti-Catholic opposition to John, he was abandoned by his army and exiled at Selymbria. He again attempted to usurp the throne in 1448 once John VIII died, but was opposed by his mother who supported the claim of Constantine XI Palaiologos.

See also[edit]

References[edit]