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Anastasius I Dicorus

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Anastasius I Dicorus
Golden coin depicting Anastasius I
Anastasius I on a consular diptych, AD 517
Byzantine emperor
Reign11 April 491 – 9 July 518
SuccessorJustin I
Bornc. 431
Died9 July 518 (aged 87)
Regnal name

Anastasius I Dicorus (Greek: Ἀναστάσιος, translit. Anastásios; c. 431 – 9 July 518) was Eastern Roman emperor from 491 to 518. A career civil servant, he came to the throne at the age of 61 after being chosen by Ariadne, the wife of his predecessor, Zeno. His reign was characterised by reforms and improvements in the empire's government, finances, economy and bureaucracy.[3] He is noted for leaving the empire with a stable government, reinvigorated monetary economy and a sizeable budget surplus, which allowed the empire to pursue more ambitious policies under his successors, most notably Justinian I.[4] Since many of Anastasius' reforms proved long-lasting, his influence over the empire endured for centuries.

Anastasius was a Monophysite Christian and his personal religious tendencies caused tensions throughout his reign in the empire that was becoming increasingly divided along religious lines.[5][6] He is venerated as a saint by the Syriac Orthodox Church on 29 July.

Early life and family

The Barberini ivory, a 6th-century ivory diptych representing either Anastasius or Justinian I

Anastasius was born at Dyrrachium; the date is unknown, but is thought to have been no later than 431. He was born into an Illyro-Roman family.[7][8] Anastasius had one black eye and one blue eye (heterochromia), and for that reason he was nicknamed Dicorus (Greek: Δίκορος, translit. Díkoros, "two-pupiled").[9] Before becoming emperor, Anastasius was a particularly successful administrator in the department of finance.[10]

Anastasius is known to have had a brother named Paulus, who served as consul in 496.[11] With a woman known as Magna, Paulus was father to Irene, who married Olybrius. This Olybrius was the son of Anicia Juliana and Areobindus Dagalaifus Areobindus.[12] The daughter of Olybrius and Irene was named Proba. She married Probus and was mother to a younger Juliana. This younger Juliana married another Anastasius, maternal grandson of Theodora, and was mother of Areobindus, Placidia, and a younger Proba, who married Flavius Anastasius, born in 530, and mothered Areobindus, born in 550, and Placidia, born in 552 and wife of John Mystacon.[13][14] Another nephew of Anastasius was Flavius Probus, consul in 502.[15] Anastasius' sister, Caesaria, married Secundinus, and gave birth to Hypatius and Pompeius.[15] Flavius Anastasius Paulus Probus Moschianus Probus Magnus, consul in 518, was a great-nephew of Anastasius. His daughter Juliana later married Marcellus, a brother of Justin II.[13] The extensive family may well have included several viable candidates for the throne.[16]


Anastasius I (center) alongside his wife Ariadne (right) on the consular diptych of his grandnephew Sabinianus Anastasius (AD 517). The third figure may be the co-consul Agapitus.[17]

Following the death of Zeno (491), there is strong evidence that many Roman citizens wanted an emperor who was an Orthodox Christian and a Roman proper. In the weeks following Zeno's death, crowds gathered in Constantinople chanting "Give the Empire an Orthodox Emperor!"[10] Under such pressure, Ariadne, Zeno's widow, turned to Anastasius. Anastasius was in his sixties at the time of his ascension to the throne. It is noteworthy that Ariadne chose Anastasius over Zeno's brother Longinus,[4] who was arguably the more logical choice; this upset the Isaurians. It was also not appreciated by the circus factions, the Blues and the Greens. These groups combined aspects of street gangs and political parties and had been patronised by Longinus. The Blues and Greens subsequently repeatedly rioted, causing serious loss of life and damage.[4] Religiously, Anastasius' sympathies were with the Monophysites.[4] Consequently, as a condition of his rule, the Patriarch of Constantinople required that he pledge not to repudiate the Council of Chalcedon.[18]

Ariadne married Anastasius on 20 May 491,[19] shortly after his accession on 11 April.[20][21][22] He gained popular favour by a judicious remission of taxation, in particular by abolishing the hated tax on receipts, which was mostly paid by the poor. He displayed great vigour and energy in administering the affairs of the empire.[23][24] His reforms improved the empire's tax base and pulled it from financial depression and bleak morale. By the end of his reign, it is claimed that the treasury had 320,000 lb gold reserve.[25]

Foreign policy and wars

Gold solidus of Anastasius I

Under Anastasius, the empire engaged in the Isaurian War against the usurper Longinus and the Anastasian War against Sassanid Persia.[26][27]

The Isaurian War (492–497) was stirred up by the Isaurian supporters of Longinus, the brother of Zeno, who was passed over for the throne in favour of Anastasius. The Battle of Cotyaeum in 492 broke the back of the revolt, but guerrilla warfare continued in the Isaurian Mountains for several years.[23] The resistance in the mountains hinged upon the Isaurians' retention of Papirius Castle. The war lasted five years, but Anastasius passed legislation related to the economy in the mid-490s, which suggests that the war did not absorb all of the energy and resources of the government.[3] After five years, the Isaurian resistance was broken. Large numbers of Isaurians were forcibly relocated to Thrace to ensure that they would not revolt again.[26]

During the Anastasian War of 502–505 against the Sassanid Persians, the Sassanids captured the cities of Theodosiopolis and Amida although the Romans later received Amida in exchange for gold. The Persian provinces also suffered severely, and a peace was concluded in 506. Anastasius afterward built the strong fortress of Daras, which was named Anastasiopolis, to hold the Persians at Nisibis in check.[27] The Balkan provinces were denuded of troops, however, and were devastated by invasions of Slavs and Bulgars. To protect Constantinople and its vicinity against them, Anastasius built the Anastasian Wall, extending from the Propontis to the Black Sea. He converted his home city, Dyrrachium, into one of the most fortified cities on the Adriatic with the construction of Durrës Castle.[1][23]

Domestic and ecclesiastical policies


Anastasius was a convinced Miaphysite, but his ecclesiastical policy was moderate. He endeavoured to maintain the principle of the Henotikon of Zeno and the peace of the church.[23] Yet, in 512, perhaps emboldened after his military success against the Persians, Anastasius deposed the Metropolitan of Chalcedon and replaced him with a Monophysite. That violated his agreement with the Patriarch of Constantinople and precipitated riots in Chalcedon.[4] The following year, the general Vitalian started a rebellion, quickly defeated an imperial army and marched on Constantinople.[4] With the army closing in, Anastasius gave Vitalian the title of Commander of the Army of Thrace and began communicating with the Pope on a potential end to the Acacian schism.[4] Two years later, General Marinus attacked Vitalian and forced him and his troops to the northern part of Thrace. After the conclusion of the conflict, Anastasius had undisputed control of the empire until his death in 518.[28]


Gold tremissis (one-third of a solidus) of Anastasius I

The Anonymous Valesianus gives a (most likely fictional) account of Anastasius attempting to predict his successor. Anastasius did not know which of his three nephews would succeed him and so he put a message under one of three couches and had his nephews take seats in the room. He believed that the nephew who sat on the couch with the message would be his heir. However, two of his nephews sat on the same couch, and the one with the concealed message remained empty. After putting the matter to God in prayer, he determined that the first person to enter his room the next morning would be the next emperor, and that person turned out to be Justin, the chief of his guards.[29]

Anastasius died childless in Constantinople on 9 July 518.[30][31][32] He was 90 and a half years old according to the later chronicles of John Malalas (c. 491–578) and the Chronicon Paschale (c. 630).[33][34] The early 6th-century historian Victor of Tunnuna states that he died at the age of 88,[35] a figure accepted by most modern historians.[36]

He became the last emperor known to be consecrated as divus on his death. Anastasius left the Imperial treasury with 23,000,000 solidi, which is 320,000 pounds of gold or 420 long tons (430 t).[37] The illiterate peasant-born Justin then became the next emperor.[38] Meanwhile, his nephew and future heir Justinian engrossed himself in the life of Constantinople.[39]

Administrative reform and introduction of new coinage

Copper coins from Anastasius I's reign. A follis (40 nummi) on top and a half follis (20 nummi) on bottom. The value of the coins are indicated with Greek numerals where M = 40 and K = 20.

Anastasius is famous for showing an uncommon interest in administrative efficiency and issues concerning the economy.[28] Whenever it was possible in governmental transactions, he altered the method of payment from goods to hard currency. This practice decreased the potential for embezzlement and the need for transportation and storage of supplies. It also allowed for easier accounting.[4] He also applied this practice to taxes, mandating that taxes be paid with cash rather than with goods.[4] He eliminated the practice of providing soldiers with their arms and uniforms; instead he allotted each soldier a generous sum of money with which to purchase their own.[4] These changes to imperial policy seem to have worked well; taxpayers often paid smaller tax bills than they had before, while government revenue increased.[4] The increase in revenue allowed the emperor to pay soldiers a higher wage, which attracted native Roman soldiers to the military, as opposed to the barbarian and Isaurian mercenaries which some previous emperors had been forced to rely on.[40] Anastasius is often cited for his "prudent management" of the empire's finances.[41]

Amidst these reforms, though, Anastasius continued the practice of selling official positions.[3] He sold so many that he has been accused of having facilitated the creation of a civilian aristocracy. This claim is strengthened by the growth in influence of families that often held high level positions in the government, such as the Apiones from Egypt. This has puzzled historians, given that the emperor seems to have minimised government corruption/inefficiency in other areas.[3] Anastasius I also gave official positions to his close friend General Celer, his brother-in-law, his brother, his nephews, and his grand-nephews.[3]

The complex monetary system of the early Byzantine Empire, which suffered a partial collapse in the mid-5th century, was revived by Anastasius in 498. The new system involved three denominations of gold, the solidus and its half (semissis) and third (tremissis); and five denominations of copper, the follis (worth 40 nummi) and its fractions down to a nummus. It would seem that the new currency quickly became an important part of trade with other regions. A follis coin has been found in the Charjou desert, north of the River Oxus.[42] Four solidi from his reign have been recovered as far from the Roman Empire as China. China might seem an unlikely trading partner, but the Romans and the Chinese were probably able to do business via Central Asian merchants travelling along the Silk Roads. Some Roman trading partners attempted to replicate the coins of Anastasius. The currency created by Anastasius stayed in use and circulated widely for long after his reign.[42]

A 40-nummi coin of Anastasius is depicted on the obverse of North Macedonia's 50 denar banknote, issued in 1996.[43]

See also



  1. ^ a b Norwich 1988, p. 186.
  2. ^ Rösch 1978, pp. 166–167.
  3. ^ a b c d e Croke, Brian (1 January 2009). Haarer, F. K. (ed.). "Anastasius I". The Classical Review. 59 (1): 208–210. doi:10.1017/s0009840x08002540. JSTOR 20482729. S2CID 154777266.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Treadgold, Warren (2001). A Concise History of Byzantium. Houndmills, Hampshire: Palgrave. pp. 57. ISBN 978-0-333-71830-8.
  5. ^ Bryan Ward-Perkins; Michael Whitby (2000). The Cambridge ancient history. 14. Late antiquity: empire and successors, A.D. 425–600. Cambridge University Press. pp. 51–52. ISBN 978-0-521-32591-2.
  6. ^ Justo L. González (2010). A History of Christian Thought Volume II: From Augustine to the Eve of the Reformation. Abingdon Press. pp. 79–82. ISBN 978-1-4267-2191-5.
  7. ^ Focanti, Lorenzo (1988). The fragments of late antique patria (PDF) (Thesis). University of Gottingen. p. 214. Christodorus' flourishing is dated to the reign of Anastasius I Dicorus (491–518 AD). Born circa 431 AD, the Illyrian soldier rose to the throne thanks to his marriage to Ariadne, the widow of the preceding ruler Zeno.
  8. ^ Croke, Brian (2001). Count Marcellinus and his chronicle. Oxford University Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-19-815001-5. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
  9. ^ Anastasius (AD 491–518) Archived 24 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine Hugh Elton – Florida International University – An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors
  10. ^ a b Ostrogorski, Georgije (1969). History of the Byzantine State. New Brunswick, NJ.: Rutgers University Press. p. 59. OCLC 812752850.
  11. ^ "The Consular List". Archived from the original on 17 April 2008. Retrieved 2 March 2008.
  12. ^ Pazdernik 1999, pp. 300–301.
  13. ^ a b Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 3
  14. ^ Christian Settipani, Continuité des élites à Byzance durant les siècles obscurs. Les princes caucasiens et l'Empire du VIe au IXe siècle, Paris, de Boccard, 2006, 26 vii 2014
  15. ^ a b Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 2
  16. ^ "James Allan Evans, "Justin I (518–527 A.D.)"". Archived from the original on 15 May 2008. Retrieved 22 June 2008.
  17. ^ Weitzmann, Kurt, ed. (1979). Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 97. ISBN 9780870991790.
  18. ^ Myres, J. N. L. (1 January 1940). Charanis, Peter (ed.). "The Religious Policy of Anastasius I". The Classical Review. 54 (4): 208–209. doi:10.1017/s0009840x00087229. JSTOR 705334. S2CID 246877719.
  19. ^ The date is based on Zonaras' (Book XIV, 3.24) statement that the marriage took place "forty days after Zeno's burial" by assuming that it occurred the day after his death.
  20. ^ Zacharias Rhetor, Book VI: "And Anastasius, his successor, received the kingdom on the fourth day of the Great Week." Easter Day fell on 7 April.
  21. ^ Chronicon Paschale 491: "he was crowned in the month Xanthicus, which is also April, on he 5th day of Holy Week."
  22. ^ Theophanes Confessor 491: "Anastasios was crowned in the Kathisma of the Hippodrome... on 14 April, it being Holy Thursday." Holy Thursday actually fell on 11 April.
  23. ^ a b c d  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Anastasius I". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 919.
  24. ^ Norwich 1988, p. 184.
  25. ^ Crawford, Peter (2013). The War of the Three Gods: Romans, Persians and the Rise of Islam. South Yorkshire, UK: Pen and Sword. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-84884-612-8.
  26. ^ a b Ostrogorsky 1957, p. 60.
  27. ^ a b Zacharias of Mytilene, Syriac Chronicle, Book VII, Chapter VI
  28. ^ a b Treadgold, Warren (2001). A Concise History of Byzantium. Houndmills, Hampshire: Palgrave. pp. 56. ISBN 978-0-333-71830-8.
  29. ^ Anonymous Valesianus II, Pars Posterior 74.
  30. ^ Marcellinus Comes 518: "The emperor Anastasius died suddenly, aged more than eighty. He reigned for twenty-seven years, two months and twenty-nine days [inclusive]."
  31. ^ Zacharias Rhetor VII, xiv: "Anastasius died on the ninth of July."
  32. ^ Theophanes Confessor 518: "On 9 April of the ninth indiction Anastasios the impious emperor died after ruling for 27 years and 7 months." (partially inaccurate)
  33. ^ Chronicon Paschale 518: "Anastasius fell sick... gave up the spirit, aged 90 years and five months. [Justin] became emperor in the consulship of Magnus, in the month Panemus, which is also July, on the 9th."
  34. ^ John Malalas XVI, 22. "He was terrified and breathed his last, at the age of 90 years and five months."
  35. ^ Victor of Tunnuna, s.a. 518. "anno viae suae III." [In his 88th year of life, i.e. born in 431]
  36. ^ PLRE II, p. 78
  37. ^ Norwich 1988, pp. 188–9.
  38. ^ Durant 1950, p. 104.
  39. ^ Brown 1989, p. 150.
  40. ^ Treadgold, Warren (2001). A Concise History of Byzantium. Handmills, Hampshire: Palgrave. pp. 57. ISBN 978-0-333-71830-8.
  41. ^ Laiou, Angeliki (2002). The Economic History of Byzantium. Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections. p. 940. ISBN 978-0-88402-288-6.
  42. ^ a b Pyatnitsky, Yuri (1 January 2006). "New Evidence for Byzantine Activity in the Caucasus During the Reign of the Emperor Anastasius I". American Journal of Numismatics. 18: 113–122. JSTOR 43580526.
  43. ^ National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia Archived 19 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Macedonian currency. Banknotes in circulation: 50 Denars Archived 24 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine. – Retrieved on 30 March 2009.


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  • Zacharias of Mytilene, Syriac Chronicle, Book VII, Chapter VI
Anastasius I Dicorus
Born: c. 431 Died: 9 July 518
Regnal titles
Preceded by Byzantine emperor
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Roman consul
with Rufus
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Post consulatum Viatoris (West)
Roman consul II
Succeeded by
Preceded by Roman consul III
with Venantius and Clovis I
Succeeded by