List of Byzantine emperors of Armenian origin

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According to medieval and modern scholars, around a dozen emperors of the Byzantine Empire were of at least partial Armenian origin. The following list includes all Byzantine emperors to whom at least three modern sources attribute Armenian origin. The Armenian origin of some is (almost) universally accepted, while the Armenian origin of others is doubtful and is debated.


Name Reign Dynasty Comments and notes
Maurice 582–602
(20 years)
Justinian Medieval Armenian historians such as Stepanos Taronetsi and Kirakos Gandzaketsi claim Maurice to be of Armenian origin.[1] Modern scholarship, however, does not have a consensus. It has been accepted by Nicholas Adontz,[2] Peter Charanis,[a] Henri Grégoire,[4] but rejected by others, such as Paul Goubert,[5] Krzysztof Stopka.[6] Anthony Kaldellis argues that his Armenian ancestry is "largely unknown to historians who study his reign" and that "no contemporary source—and there are many— mentions it." He considers the medieval Armenian chronicles to be "Armenian folktales."[7]
Heraclius 610–641
(31 years)
Heraclian The son of Heraclius the Elder, who is almost universally recognized as an Armenian.[8][b][10][11][12][13][14] Walter Kaegi notes that Heraclius was presumably "bilingual (Armenian and Greek) from an early age, but even this is uncertain."[8] According to 7th century Armenian historian Sebeos, Heraclius was related to the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia.[15] Kaldellis argues that "there is not a single primary source that says that Herakleios was an Armenian" and that the assertion is based on an erroneous reading of Theophylact Simocatta. In a letter, Priscus, a general who had replaced Heraclius the Elder, wrote to him "to leave the army and return to his own city in Armenia". Kaldellis interprets it as the command headquarters of Heraclius the Elder, and not his home town.[16]
Mizizios 668–669
(1 year)

Considered Armenian by mainstream scholarship.[17][18][19] He came from the Gnuni family.[20]
Philippikos Bardanes 711–713
(2 years)

(Twenty Years' Anarchy)
Considered Armenian by mainstream scholarship.[c][22][23][24] Kaldellis speculated that he may have been Persian.[25]
Artabasdos 741–743
(2 years)

Considered Armenian by mainstream scholarship.[26][27] Nina Garsoïan suggests that he hailed from the Mamikonian house.[28] Kaldellis believes that we "do not know enough about the first to have an interesting discussion of his ethnicity."[29]
Leo V the Armenian 813–820
(7 years)
He is widely called Armenian by modern scholarship.[d][31][32][33][34][35] He is the only emperor to be nicknamed "Armenian" by Byzantine historians.[36] Armenian chronicles claimed he was an Artsruni.[37] Kaldellis notes that his "ancestry is said to have been Armenian, Assyrian, and Amalekite (a biblical ethnonym), whatever exactly those terms may have meant in a late eighth-century context."[29]
Michael III 842–867
(25 years)
Amorian His mother, Theodora, the wife of Theophilos is considered by most scholars to have been of Armenian origin.[38][39][34][e] Kaldellis argues that "As the restorer of icons in 843, many texts discuss her, yet none refers to her Armenian ethnicity."[40]
Basil I 867–886
(19 years)
Macedonian His father is widely considered to be of Armenian origin.[41][11][42][32][34] The Armenian descent of his mother is debated.[f][44] Armenian medieval historians Samuel Anetsi and Stepanos Taronetsi claimed that he hailed from the region of Taron.[41] He is also "presumed to have descended from the kingly house of the Arsacids."[33] Kaldellis wrote: "The Romans generally called Basileios a Macedonian, from his provincial origin, rather than an Armenian, and some Arabic texts call him a Slav. A fierce debate has, predictably, raged among scholars over the issue, as if there could be a single “truth” about his ancestry (the entire debate is premised on the idea of racial purity)."[45]
Romanos I Lekapenos 920–944
(24 years)
Macedonian/Lekapenos According to some scholars.[32][g][34]
Nikephoros II Phokas 963-969
(9 years)
Macedonian According to some scholars he was of at least partial Armenian descent.[12][h]
John I Tzimiskes 969-976
(8 years)
Macedonian Considered Armenian by mainstream scholarship.[47][i][12][32][49][34][33] According to the medieval Armenian historian Matthew of Edessa Tzimiskes was from the region of Khozan, from the area which is now called Chmushkatzag."[50] Kaldellis is skeptical, calling the grounds for his Armenian origin "extremely weak."[51]

History and criticism[edit]

The first work on Byzantine emperors of Armenian origin was published in 1905 by the Mekhitarist congregation of San Lazzaro degli Armeni in Venice. The book is titled Armenian Emperors of Byzantium (Հայ կայսերք Բիւզանդիոնի) and is authored by Fr. Garabed Der-Sahagian.[52] Kaldellis suggested that he extended "western European modes of racial and nationalist historiography to the history of medieval Armenia." Kaldellis believes that it was Nicholas Adontz who "made the search for Armenians in Byzantium into a more scholarly and less romantic nationalist process." However, he is critical of Adontz as he saw "Armenians everywhere and injected them into as many important events as he could." According to Kaldellis it was later endorsed by Peter Charanis and Alexander Kazhdan and "has spread widely in the field of Byzantine Studies."[53]

Peter Charanis suggested that a number of Byzantine emperors Armenian origin. He claimed that "every emperor who sat on the Byzantine throne from the accession of Basil I to the death of Basil II (867—1025) was of Armenian or partially Armenian origin."[46] However, he noted that "in Byzantium the ethnic origins of a person was of not significance, provided he integrated himself into its cultural life."[4]

Anthony Kaldellis, professor of classics at Ohio State University, is highly critical of what he calls the "Armenian fallacy" in Byzantine studies. He dedicated a separate chapter in his 2019 book Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium.[54] He wrote:

"[I]n not one case can we say that these were "Armenian emperors" in any meaningful sense. As far as we know, they were all Romans of (possible) Armenian ancestry. None of them exhibits any cultural or biographical traits that would associate him with Armenia."[25]

Armen Ayvazyan has noted that:[55]

"Much of [the] ethnically Armenian elite in the Byzantine Empire, in religious and cultural terms, was almost entirely Hellenized [i.e., Romanized] and certainly put imperial interests above the interests of Armenia, while retaining its connection with the Armenian nation only nominally, by and large for receiving a career support from their rich and powerful compatriots as well as getting authorization of their real or alleged noble origins from Armenian princely or even royal (Arsacid) blood."


  1. ^ Charanis changed his views on the ethnic origin of Maurice. In his The Armenians in the Byzantine Empire (1961) he wrote that it is "extremely doubtful" that Maurice may have been of Armenian descent.[3] However, in the 1965 article "A Note on the Ethnic Origin of the Emperor Maurice" he wrote that "Maurice must be accepted, therefore, as the first Byzantine emperor [...] to have been of Armenian origin."[4]
  2. ^ "...Heraclius, himself of Armenian descent..."[9]
  3. ^ "The Armenian Bardanes occupied the throne from 711 to 713."[21]
  4. ^ "Leo V, known as the Armenian, occupied the throne from 813 to 820. He is referred to in one of the sources as digenes, 'twyborn', i. e., born of two races, and these two races are given as Assyrian and Armenian (56). The thorough and careful investigation of all the sources, however, has shown that there is no truth in the tradition (57). Leo was an Armenian..."[30]
  5. ^ "Theodora, the wife of Theophilus, son and successor of Michael II, was a native of Ebissa in Paphlagonia, but she was of Armenian descent at least from her father's side. Thus Michael III who succeeded his father Theophilus was partly Armenian.[30]
  6. ^ "That Basil I, the founder of the most brilliant dynasty of the Byzantine empire, was indeed Armenian and Armenian on both sides, can be regarded as an established fact."[43]
  7. ^ "Two of these Emperors, Romanus Lecapenus (919--944) and John Tzimiskes (969--976) are definitely known to have been of Armenian origins."[43]
  8. ^ "The Phocades then, if not entirely Armenian in origin were at least partially so. That means, of course, that Nicephorus Phocas, one of the three emperors of the tenth century who were not legitimate members of the Macedonian dynasty, but were associated with it, was also at least partially Armenian in origin."[46]
  9. ^ "Thus, Tzimiskes, one of the truly great soldier-emperors of Byzantium, belonged by birth to a distinguished Armenian family which had established itself among the military aristocracy of Byzantium."[48]
  1. ^ Abrahamian, Ashot G.; Petrosian, Garegin B. (1979). Անանիա Շիրակացի․ Մատենագրություն [Anania Shirakatsi: Writings]. Yerevan: Sovetakan grogh. p. 332. Բյուզանդական կայսր Մորիկը [...] Ըստ հայ մատենագիրների տեղեկությունների՝ նա ծագումով հայ է։ Այս մասին տեղեկություններ կան Շապուհի, Ստեփանոս Տարոնեցու, Կիրակոս Գանձակեցու և այլ պատմիչների մոտ։ Նորագույն ուսումնասիրողներից ոմանք ժխտում են նրա հայկական ծագումը։
  2. ^ Adontz, Nicholas (1934). "Les légendes de Maurice et de Constantin V, empereurs de Byzance". Annuaire de l'Institut de Philologie et d'Histoire orientales et slaves (in French). Université libre de Bruxelles. 2: 1–12.
  3. ^ Charanis 1963, p. 14.
  4. ^ a b c Charanis, Peter (1965). "A Note on the Ethnic Origin of the Emperor Maurice". Byzantion. Peeters Publishers. 35 (2): 417.
  5. ^ P. Goubert, Byzance avant I'lslam, I. Paris, 1951, 34-41.
  6. ^ Stopka, Krzysztof (2016). Armenia Christiana: Armenian Religious Identity and the Churches of Constantinople and Rome (4th–15th Century). Jagiellonian University Press. p. 78. Some Armenian chronicles [...] write that the Emperor Maurice had Armenian roots. Generally this is regarded as a legend.
  7. ^ Kaldellis 2019, pp. 181-182.
  8. ^ a b Kaegi, Walter E. (2003). Heraclius: Emperor of Byzantium. Cambridge University Press. p. 21. ISBN 9780521814591. The preponderance of evidence points to an Armenian origin for Heraclius the Elder...
  9. ^ Charanis 1963, p. 18.
  10. ^ Shahîd, Irfan (1972). "The Iranian Factor in Byzantium during the Reign of Heraclius". Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 26. p. 305 "...the Armenian origins of Heraclius..."; p. 308 "...the house of Heraclius, the Armenian provenance of whose founder has been generally accepted."
  11. ^ a b Evans, Helen C. (2018). "Armenians and Their Middle Age". Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages. Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 34. ISBN 9781588396600. The Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-640) was the son of an Armenian... [...] In 867 Basil I (r. 867-886), whose father was also Armenian...
  12. ^ a b c Geanakoplos, Deno J. (1984). Byzantium: Church, Society, and Civilization Seen Through Contemporary Eyes. University of Chicago Press. p. 344. ISBN 9780226284606. Some of the greatest Byzantine emperors — Nicephorus Phocas, John Tzimisces and probably Heraclius — were of Armenian descent.
  13. ^ Hovorun, Cyril (2008). Will, Action and Freedom: Christological Controversies in the Seventh Century. BRILL. p. 57. ISBN 9789047442639. Most contemporary historians agree that Heraclius was of Armenian background.
  14. ^ Treadgold 1997, p. 287: "...his family were Armenians from Cappadocia..."
  15. ^ Vasiliev, Alexander A. (1958). History of the Byzantine Empire, 324–1453. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 193. ISBN 9780299809256.
  16. ^ Kaldellis 2019, p. 183.
  17. ^ Toynbee, Arnold J. (1973). Constantine Porphyrogenitus and His World. Oxford University Press. p. 80. ISBN 9780192152534. This exception is Mjej Gnouni (Graece Mizizios), an Armenian immigrant of the first generation. Mjej succeeded in 668 in assassinating his master Constans II...
  18. ^ Haldon, J. F. (1990). Byzantium in the Seventh Century: The Transformation of a Culture (Rev. ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 61. ...the Armenian general Mzez Gnouni, or Mizizios, as he is called in the Greek sources [...] was acclaimed emperor.
  19. ^ Turtledove, Harry (1982). The Chronicle of Theophanes: Anni Mundi 6095-6305 (A.D. 602-813). University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 51. Once they had buried him, they named Mizizios — an Armenian — Emperor...
  20. ^ Charanis 1963, pp. 21-22.
  21. ^ Charanis 1963, p. 22.
  22. ^ Vasiliev, Alexander A. (1958). History of the Byzantine Empire, 324–1453. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 194. ISBN 9780299809256. ...the Armenian Vardan or Philippicus (711-13)...
  23. ^ Lang, David Marshall (1970). Armenia: Cradle of Civilization. Allen and Unwin. p. 14. Bardanes Philippicus, Armenian Emperor of 711-713
  24. ^ Rice, David Talbot (1965). Constantinople from Byzantium to Istanbul. Stein and Day. p. 79. In 710 an insurrection broke out against Justinian 11 and the Armenian Bardanes (711-13) appeared with a fleet off Constantinople; Justinian was deposed and killed and Bardanes was proclaimed emperor.
  25. ^ a b Kaldellis 2019, p. 185.
  26. ^ Beckwith, Christopher I. (2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press. p. 142. ISBN 9780691135892. ...the Armenian general Artavasdos. [...] Because Artavasdos was Armenian...
  27. ^ Kazhdan, Alexander, ed. (1991). "Artabasdos". Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. ...usurper (742–43).An Armenian (Toumanoff, “Caucasia” 135), Artabasdos was appointed strategos of the Armeniakon... online
  28. ^ Garsoïan, Nina (1998). "Armenian Integration into the Byzantine Empire". In Ahrweiler, Helene; Laiou, Angeliki E. (eds.). Studies on the Internal Diaspora of the Byzantine Empire. Dumbarton Oaks. p. 97. ISBN 9780884022473. On the contrary, Leo II's iconodule son-in-law, Artavasdos, still kept the traditional name, which identified unmistakably his descent from the Armenian Mamikonean house...
  29. ^ a b Kaldellis 2019, p. 186.
  30. ^ a b Charanis 1963, p. 23.
  31. ^ Chirat, H. "Leo V, Byzantine Emperor". New Catholic Encyclopedia. Leo was of Armenian descent. online
  32. ^ a b c d Rosser, John Hutchins (2012). "Armenia". Historical Dictionary of Byzantium. Scarecrow Press. p. 56. ISBN 9780810875678. ...a number of important military leaders and civil administrators were Armenian, including emperors Leo V, Basil I, Romanos I Lekapenos, and John I Tzimiskes.
  33. ^ a b c Ghazarian, Jacob G. (2000). The Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia During the Crusades: The Integration of Cilician Armenians with the Latins, 1080-1393. Psychology Press. pp. 40-41. ISBN 9780700714186. Emperor Leo V (813-20), previously a soldier and by race an Armenian. The emperor Basil I (867-86) is presumed to have descended from the kingly house of the Arsacids [...] the Armenian John I Tzimiskes (969-76)...
  34. ^ a b c d e Whittow, Mark (1996). The Making of Byzantium, 600-1025. University of California Press. p. 201. ISBN 9780520204966. Four emperors — Leo V, Basil I, Romanos I and John Tzimiskes — seem to have been Armenian, as well as the empress Theodora, Theophilos' wife...
  35. ^ Bury, John Bagnell (1912). "Leo V (The Armenian) and the Revival of Iconoclasm (A.D. 813-820)". A History of the Eastern Roman Empire from the Fall of Irene to the Accession of Basil I (A. D. 802-867). p. 43. Leo V. was not the first Armenian1 who occupied the Imperial throne. 1 = One one side his parentage was "Assyrian," which presumably means Syrian.
  36. ^ Lang, David Marshall (1980). Armenia: Cradle of Civilization. Allen & Unwin. p. 185. However, Leo V (813-20) is the only emperor who has been officially recognized as an Armenian by the Byzantine historians.
  37. ^ Kurkjian, Vahan M. (1958). "The Armenians Outside of Armenia". A History of Armenia. Armenian General Benevolent Union of America. p. 462. In 813, Leon V, known in history as "The Armenian," was enthroned by the army, which had just inflicted a severe defeat upon the Bulgarians. The Armenian chroniclers call him Leon Ardzruni.
  38. ^ Kazhdan, Alexander (ed.). "Theodora". Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium Volume III. p. 2037. ...she was of Armenian descent...
  39. ^ Codoñer, Juan Signes (2016). The Emperor Theophilos and the East, 829–842: Court and Frontier in Byzantium during the Last Phase of Iconoclasm. Routledge. p. 111. ISBN 9781317034278. He was also born of and married to Armenian women (Thekla and Theodora)...
  40. ^ Kaldellis 2019, p. 172.
  41. ^ a b PmbZ, Basileios I..
  42. ^ Treadgold 1997, p. 455: "Though of Armenian stock, Basil was called the Macedonian because he had been born in the Theme of Macedonia...."
  43. ^ a b Charanis 1963, p. 35.
  44. ^ Adontz, L'Age et l'origine de I'empereur Basile I, Byzantion 8 (1933) 475-550; 9 (1934) 223-260.
  45. ^ Kaldellis 2019, p. 192.
  46. ^ a b Charanis 1963, p. 39.
  47. ^ "John I Tzimiskes (969–76)". The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. John was a general of Armenian origin.... online (archived)
  48. ^ Charanis 1963, p. 37.
  49. ^ Lang, David Marshall; Walker, Christopher J. (1976). The Armenians. Minority Rights Group. p. 7. Another Armenian emperor was John Tzimiskes (969–976), one of the most brilliant conquerors ever to sit on the throne...
  50. ^ (in Armenian) Matthew of Edessa. Մատթեոս Ուռհայեցի`Ժամանակնագրություն (The Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa). Translation and commentary by Hrach Bartikyan. Yerevan, Armenian SSR: Hayastan Publishing, 1973, pp. 12–13.
  51. ^ Kaldellis 2019, p. 184.
  52. ^ Der-Sahagian, Garabed (1905). Հայ կայսերք Բիւզանդիոնի [Armenian Emperors of Byzantium] (in Armenian). San Lazzaro, Venice: Mekhitarist Congregation.
  53. ^ Kaldellis 2019, p. 157.
  54. ^ Kaldellis 2019, pp. 155-195.
  55. ^ Kaldellis 2019, p. 159-160.