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Anastasius I Dicorus

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Anastasius I
Solidus Anastasius (obverse).jpg
Solidus of Emperor Anastasius
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Reign11 April 491 – 9 July 518
SuccessorJustin I
Bornc. 431
Dyrrhachium, modern Durrës in Albania[1]
Died9 July 518 (aged 87)[2]
Regnal name
Dominus Noster Flavius Anastasius Augustus 'Dicorus'[3]
DynastyLeonid dynasty
MotherAnastasia Constantina

Anastasius I (Greek: Ἀναστάσιος, Anastásios; c. 431 – 9 July 518) was Byzantine emperor from 491 to 518. He made his career as a government administrator. He came to the throne at the age of 61 after being chosen by the wife of his predecessor, Zeno. His religious tendencies caused tensions throughout his reign. He is often recognized as the first Byzantine emperor.[4]

His reign was characterised by improvements in the government, economy, and bureaucracy in the Eastern Roman empire.[5] He is noted for leaving the imperial government with a sizeable budget surplus of 23,000,000 solidi due to minimisation of government corruption, reforms to the tax code, and the introduction of a new form of currency.[6] He is venerated as a saint by the Syriac Orthodox Church on July 29.

Early life[edit]

Anastasius was born at Dyrrachium; the date is unknown, but is thought to have been no later than 431. He was born into an Illyrian family,[7] the son of Pompeius (born c. 410), a nobleman of Dyrrachium, and Anastasia Constantina (born c. 410).[8] His mother was a believer in Arianism; she was a paternal great-granddaughter of the Roman caesar Constantius Gallus and his wife, Constantina (the daughter and sister of emperors).[9] Anastasius had one eye black and one eye blue (heterochromia), and for that reason he was nicknamed Dicorus (Greek: Δίκορος, "two-pupiled").[10] Before becoming emperor, Anastasius was a particularly successful administrator in the department of finance.[11]


Following the death of Zeno (491), there is strong evidence that many Roman citizens wanted an emperor who was an Orthodox Christian. In the weeks following Zeno's death, crowds gathered in Constantinople chanting "Give the Empire an Orthodox Emperor!"[11] 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,[6] 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.[6] Religiously, Anastasius' sympathies were with the Monophysites.[6] Consequently, as a condition of his rule, the Patriarch of Constantinople required that he pledge not to repudiate the Council of Chalcedon.[12]

Ariadne married Anastasius on 20 May 491, shortly after his accession. 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.[13][14] 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 320,0001b gold reserve.[15]

Foreign policy and wars[edit]

Under Anastasius the Eastern Roman Empire engaged in the Isaurian War against the usurper Longinus and the Anastasian War against Sassanid Persia.[16][17]

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.[13] 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, suggesting that the Isaurian War did not absorb all of the energy and resources of the government.[5] 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.[16]

During the Anastasian War of 502–505 with 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.[17] 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, the emperor 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][13]

Domestic and ecclesiastical policies[edit]

The Emperor was a convinced Miaphysite, following the teachings of Cyril of Alexandria and Severus of Antioch who taught "One Incarnate Nature of Christ" in an undivided union of the Divine and human natures. However, his ecclesiastical policy was moderate. He endeavoured to maintain the principle of the Henotikon of Zeno and the peace of the church.[13] Yet, in 512, perhaps emboldened after his military success against the Persians, Anastasius I deposed the Patriarch of Chalcedon and replaced him with a Monophysite. This violated his agreement with the Patriarch of Constantinople and precipitated riots in Chalcedon.[6] The following year the general Vitalian started a rebellion, quickly defeating an imperial army and marching on Constantinople.[6] With the army closing in, Anastasius gave Vitalian the title of Commander of the Army of Thrace and began communicating with the Pope regarding a potential end to the Acacian schism.[6] Two years later, General Marinus attacked Vitalian and forced him and his troops to the northern part of Thrace. Following the conclusion of this conflict, Anastasius had undisputed control of the Empire until his death in 518.[18]


A gold solidus of Anastasius I

The Anonymous Valesianus gives an account of Anastasius attempting to predict his successor: Anastasius did not know which of his three nephews would succeed him, 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.[19]

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. That person was Justin, the chief of his guards. Anastasius had never thought of Justin as a successor, but from this point on he treated him as if he would be. Anastasius died childless in Constantinople on 9 July 518 and was buried at the Church of the Holy Apostles. He left the Imperial treasury with 23,000,000 solidi, which is 320,000 pounds of gold or 420 long tons (430 t).[20] The illiterate, peasant-born Justin then became the next emperor.[21] Meanwhile, the heir apparent Justinian engrossed himself in the life of Constantinople.[22]


Anastasius is known to have had a brother named Flavius Paulus, who served as consul in 496.[23] With a woman known as Magna, Paulus was father to Irene, who married Olybrius. This Olybrius was the son of Anicia Juliana and Areobindus Dagalaiphus Areobindus.[24] 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 and was mother of Areobindus, Placidia, and a younger Proba.[25] Another nephew of Anastasius was Flavius Probus, consul in 502.[26] Anastasius' sister, Ceaseria, married Secundinus, and gave birth to Hypatius and Pompeius.[26] 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.[25] The extensive family may well have included several viable candidates for the throne.[27]

Administrative reform and introduction of new coinage[edit]

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

Anastasius is famous for showing an uncommon interest in administrative efficiency and issues concerning the economy.[18] 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.[6] He also applied this practice to taxes, mandating that taxes be paid with cash rather than with goods.[6] 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.[6] These changes to imperial policy seem to have worked well; taxpayers often paid smaller tax bills than they had before, while government revenue increased.[6] 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.[28] Anastasius is often cited for his "prudent management" of the empire's finances.[29]

Amidst these reforms, though, Anastasius continued the practice of selling official positions.[5] 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 Appiones from Egypt. This has puzzled historians, given that the emperor seems to have minimised government corruption/inefficiency in other areas.[5] Anastasius I also gave official positions to his close friend General Celer, his brother-in-law, his brother, his nephews, and his grand-nephews.[5]

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 and third; and five 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.[30] 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.[30]

A 40-nummi coin of Anastasius is depicted on the obverse of North Macedonia's 50 denar banknote, issued in 1996.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Norwich 1988, p. 186.
  2. ^ Norwich 1988, p. 189.
  3. ^ Cooley, Alison E. (2012). The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy. Cambridge University Press. p. 508. ISBN 978-0-521-84026-2.
  4. ^ Adkins, Lesley; Adkins, Roy A. (2004). Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome. New York: Facts on File. p. 38. ISBN 0-8160-5026-0.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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 9780333718308.
  7. ^ Croke, Brian (2001). Count Marcellinus and his chronicle. Oxford University Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-19-815001-5. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
  8. ^ Borovský, Jozef (2019). Chrysalis I: Metamorphosis of Odium. Victoria, Canada: FriesenPress. p. 94. ISBN 978-1-5255-4769-0.
  9. ^ Settipani, Christian, Continuite Gentilice et Continuite Familiale Dans Les Familles Senatoriales Romaines, A L'Epoque Imperiale, Mythe et Realite. Linacre, UK: Prosopographica et Genealogica, 2000. ILL. NYPL ASY (Rome) 03-983.
  10. ^ Anastasius (AD 491–518) Archived 24 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine Hugh Elton – Florida International University – An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors
  11. ^ a b Ostrogorski, Georgije (1969). History of the Byzantine State. New Brunswick, NJ.: Rutgers University Press. p. 59. OCLC 812752850.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 919.
  14. ^ Norwich 1988, p. 184.
  15. ^ 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 9781848846128.
  16. ^ a b Ostrogorsky 1957, p. 60.
  17. ^ a b Zacharias of Mytilene, Syriac Chronicle, Book VII, Chapter VI
  18. ^ a b Treadgold, Warren (2001). A Concise History of Byzantium. Houndmills, Hampshire: Palgrave. pp. 56. ISBN 9780333718308.
  19. ^ Norwich 1988, p. 188.
  20. ^ Norwich 1988, pp. 188–9.
  21. ^ Durant 1950, p. 104.
  22. ^ Brown 1989, p. 150.
  23. ^ "The Consular List". Archived from the original on 17 April 2008. Retrieved 2 March 2008.
  24. ^ Pazdernik 1999, pp. 300–301.
  25. ^ a b Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 3
  26. ^ a b Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 2
  27. ^ "James Allan Evans, "Justin I (518–527 A.D.)"". Archived from the original on 15 May 2008. Retrieved 22 June 2008.
  28. ^ Treadgold, Warren (2001). A Concise History of Byzantium. Handmills, Hampshire: Palgrave. pp. 57. ISBN 9780333718308.
  29. ^ Laiou, Angeliki (2002). The Economic History of Byzantium. Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections. p. 940. ISBN 9780884022886.
  30. ^ 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 (1989–). 18: 113–122. JSTOR 43580526.
  31. ^ 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.


  • Arce, Ignacio; Feissel, Denis (2014). The Edict of Emperor Anastasius I (491–518 AD): An Interim Report. Amman: DAAD. OCLC 889751713.
  • Brown, Peter (1989). The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150–750. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Co. ISBN 978-0-39395-803-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Charanis, Peter (1935). The religious policy of Anastasius I: emperor of the later Roman Empire 491–518. Madison Wis.: University of Wisconsin—Madison. OCLC 827230820.
  • Durant, Will (1950). The Age of Faith. The Story of Civilization. IV. New York: Simon and Schuster. OCLC 225699907.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey; Lieu, Samuel N. C. (29 June 2005). The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars AD 363-628. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415146876.
  • Hussey, J.M., ed. (1985). The Cambridge Medieval History. CUP Archive. ISBN 9780521045353.
  • Meyendorff, John (1989). Imperial unity and Christian divisions: The Church 450–680 A.D. The Church in history. 2. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. ISBN 978-0-88-141056-3.
  • Norwich, John (1988). Byzantium: the Early Centuries. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-670-80251-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Ostrogorsky, George (1957). History of The Byzantine State. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. OCLC 422217218.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Pazdernik, Charles (1999). "Anicia Juliana". In G.W. Bowersock; Peter Brown; Oleg Grabar (eds.). Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-67451-173-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Settipani, Christian (1989). Les ancêtres de Charlemagne (in French).
  • Settipani, Christian (2000). Continuité gentilice et continuité sénatoriale dans les familles sénatoriales romaines à l'époque impériale (in French).
  • Settipani, Christian (2006). Continuité des élites à Byzance durant les siècles obscurs. Les princes caucasiens et l'Empire du VIe au IXe siècle Continuité des élites à Byzance durant les siècles obscurs (in French).
  • Zacharias of Mytilene, Syriac Chronicle, Book VII, Chapter VI

External links[edit]

Anastasius I Dicorus
Born: c. 431 Died: 9 July 518
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by
Justin I
Political offices
Preceded by
Anicius Olybrius,
sine collega
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Flavius Rufus
Succeeded by
Flavius Albinus Iunior,
and Flavius Eusebius II
Preceded by
Post consulatum Viatoris (West)
Consul of the Roman Empire
with out colleague
Succeeded by
and John the Scythian
Preceded by
Flavius Ennodius Messala,
and Areobindus Dagalaiphus Areobindus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Venantius iunior,
followed by Clovis I
Succeeded by
Basilius Venantius,
and Celer