Byzantine art comprises the body of Christian Greek artistic products of the Eastern Roman Empire, as well as the nations and states that inherited culturally from the empire. Though the empire itself emerged from the decline of Rome and lasted until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the start date of the Byzantine period is rather clearer in art history than in political history, if still imprecise. Many Eastern Orthodox states in Eastern Europe, as well as to some degree the Islamic states of the eastern Mediterranean, preserved many aspects of the empire's culture and art for centuries afterward.
A number of contemporary states with the Byzantine Empire were culturally influenced by it without actually being part of it (the "Byzantine commonwealth"). These included the Rus, as well as some non-Orthodox states like the Republic of Venice, which separated from the Byzantine Empire in the 10th century, and the Kingdom of Sicily, which had close ties to the Byzantine Empire and had also been a Byzantine territory until the 10th century with a large Greek-speaking population persisting into the 12th century. Other states having a Byzantine artistic tradition, had oscillated throughout the Middle Ages between being part of the Byzantine Empire and having periods of independence, such as Serbia and Bulgaria. After the fall of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in 1453, art produced by Eastern Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire was often called "post-Byzantine." Certain artistic traditions that originated in the Byzantine Empire, particularly in regard to icon painting and church architecture, are maintained in Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and other Eastern Orthodox countries to the present day. (Full article...)
The Byzantine Iconoclasm (Greek: Εικονομαχία, romanized: Eikonomachía, lit. 'image struggle', 'war on icons') were two periods in the history of the Byzantine Empire when the use of religious images or icons was opposed by religious and imperial authorities within the Orthodox Church and the temporal imperial hierarchy. The First Iconoclasm, as it is sometimes called, occurred between about 726 and 787, while the Second Iconoclasm occurred between 814 and 842. According to the traditional view, Byzantine Iconoclasm was started by a ban on religious images promulgated by the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian, and continued under his successors. It was accompanied by widespread destruction of religious images and persecution of supporters of the veneration of images. The Papacy remained firmly in support of the use of religious images throughout the period, and the whole episode widened the growing divergence between the Byzantine and Carolingian traditions in what was still a unified European Church, as well as facilitating the reduction or removal of Byzantine political control over parts of the Italian Peninsula.
Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction within a culture of the culture's own religious images and other symbols or monuments, usually for religious or political motives. People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, Greek for "breakers of icons" (εἰκονοκλάσται), a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any person who breaks or disdains established dogmata or conventions. Conversely, people who revere or venerate religious images are derisively called "iconolaters" (εἰκονολάτρες). They are normally known as "iconodules" (εἰκονόδουλοι), or "iconophiles" (εἰκονόφιλοι). These terms were, however, not a part of the Byzantine debate over images. They have been brought into common usage by modern historians (from the seventeenth century) and their application to Byzantium increased considerably in the late twentieth century. The Byzantine term for the debate over religious imagery, "iconomachy," means "struggle over images" or "image struggle". Some sources also say that the Iconoclasts were against intercession to the saints and denied the usage of relics, however it is disputed. (Full article...)
The Byzantine economy was among the most robust economies in the Mediterranean for many centuries. Constantinople was a prime hub in a trading network that at various times extended across nearly all of Eurasia and North Africa. Some scholars argue that, up until the arrival of the Arabs in the 7th century, the Eastern Roman Empire had the most powerful economy in the world. The Arab conquests, however, would represent a substantial reversal of fortunes contributing to a period of decline and stagnation. Constantine V's reforms (c. 765) marked the beginning of a revival that continued until 1204. From the 10th century until the end of the 12th, the Byzantine Empire projected an image of luxury, and the travelers were impressed by the wealth accumulated in the capital. All this changed with the arrival of the Fourth Crusade, which was an economic catastrophe. The Palaiologoi tried to revive the economy, but the late Byzantine state would not gain full control of either the foreign or domestic economic forces.
One of the economic foundations of the empire was trade. The state strictly controlled both the internal and the international trade, and retained the monopoly of issuing coinage. Constantinople remained the single most important commercial centre of Europe for much of the Medieval era, which it held until the Republic of Venice slowly began to overtake Byzantine merchants in trade; first through tax exemption under the Komnenoi, then under the Latin Empire. (Full article...)
The work as planned had three parts: the Code (Codex) is a compilation, by selection and extraction, of imperial enactments to date; the Digest or Pandects (the Latin title contains both Digesta and Pandectae) is an encyclopedia composed of mostly brief extracts from the writings of Roman jurists; and the Institutes (Institutiones) is a student textbook, mainly introducing the Code, although it has important conceptual elements that are less developed in the Code or the Digest. All three parts, even the textbook, were given force of law. They were intended to be, together, the sole source of law; reference to any other source, including the original texts from which the Code and the Digest had been taken, was forbidden. Nonetheless, Justinian found himself having to enact further laws and today these are counted as a fourth part of the Corpus, the Novellae Constitutiones (Novels, literally New Laws). (Full article...)
Mount Athos is commonly referred to in Greek as the Agion Oros (Ἅγιον Ὄρος, 'Holy Mountain'). Other languages of Orthodox tradition also use names translating to 'Holy Mountain'. This includes Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian (Света Гора, Sveta Gora; Svyataya Gora); and Georgian (მთაწმინდა, mtats’minda). However, not all languages spoken in the region use this name; it is simply called "Athos" in Russian, Афон (Afon); and "Mount Athos" in Romanian, Muntele Athos or Muntele Atos. In the classical era, while the mountain was called Athos, the peninsula was known as Acté or Akté (Koinē Greek: Ἀκτή). (Full article...)
The Sack of Amorium by the Abbasid Caliphate in mid-August 838 was one of the major events in the long history of the Arab–Byzantine Wars. The Abbasid campaign was led personally by the Caliph al-Mu'tasim (r. 833–842), in retaliation to a virtually unopposed expedition launched by the Byzantine emperorTheophilos (r. 829–842) into the Caliphate's borderlands the previous year. Mu'tasim targeted Amorium, an Eastern Roman city in western Asia Minor, because it was the birthplace of the ruling Byzantine dynasty and, at the time, one of Byzantium's largest and most important cities. The caliph gathered an exceptionally large army, which he divided in two parts, which invaded from the northeast and the south. The northeastern army defeated the Byzantine forces under Theophilos at Anzen, allowing the Abbasids to penetrate deep into Byzantine Asia Minor and converge upon Ancyra, which they found abandoned. After sacking the city, they turned south to Amorium, where they arrived on 1 August. Faced with intrigues at Constantinople and the rebellion of the large Khurramite contingent of his army, Theophilos was unable to aid the city.
Amorium was strongly fortified and garrisoned, but a traitor revealed a weak spot in the wall, where the Abbasids concentrated their attack, effecting a breach. Unable to break through the besieging army, Boiditzes, the commander of the breached section privately attempted to negotiate with the Caliph without notifying his superiors. He concluded a local truce and left his post, which allowed the Arabs to take advantage, enter the city, and capture it. Amorium was systematically destroyed, never to recover its former prosperity. Many of its inhabitants were slaughtered, and the remainder driven off as slaves. Most of the survivors were released after a truce in 841, but prominent officials were taken to the caliph's capital of Samarra and executed years later after refusing to convert to Islam, becoming known as the 42 Martyrs of Amorium. (Full article...)
Initially built by Constantine the Great, the walls surrounded the new city on all sides, protecting it against attack from both sea and land. As the city grew, the famous double line of the Theodosian Walls was built in the 5th century. Although the other sections of the walls were less elaborate, they were, when well-manned, almost impregnable for any medieval besieger. They saved the city, and the Byzantine Empire with it, during sieges by the Avar-Sassanian coalition, Arabs, Rus', and Bulgars, among others. The advent of gunpowder siege cannons rendered the fortifications vulnerable, but cannon technology was not sufficiently advanced to capture the city on its own, and the walls could be repaired between reloading. Ultimately, the city fell from the sheer weight of numbers of the Ottoman forces on 29 May 1453 after a two-month siege. (Full article...)
After wintering in the western coastlands of Asia Minor, the Arab army crossed into Thrace in early summer 717 and built siege lines to blockade the city, which was protected by the massive Theodosian Walls. The Arab fleet, which accompanied the land army and was meant to complete the city's blockade by sea, was neutralized soon after its arrival by the Byzantine navy through the use of Greek fire. This allowed Constantinople to be resupplied by sea, while the Arab army was crippled by famine and disease during the unusually hard winter that followed. In spring 718, two Arab fleets sent as reinforcements were destroyed by the Byzantines after their Christian crews defected, and an additional army sent overland through Asia Minor was ambushed and defeated. Coupled with attacks by the Bulgars on their rear, the Arabs were forced to lift the siege on 15 August 718. On its return journey, the Arab fleet was almost completely destroyed by natural disasters. (Full article...)
Byzantine music (Greek: Βυζαντινή μουσική) is the music of the Byzantine Empire. Originally it consisted of songs and hymns composed to Greek texts used for courtly ceremonials, during festivals, or as paraliturgical and liturgical music. The ecclesiastical forms of Byzantine music are the best known forms today, because different Orthodox traditions still identify with the heritage of Byzantine music, when their cantors sing monodic chant out of the traditional chant books such as the Sticherarion, which in fact consisted of five books, and the Irmologion.
A Hodegetria, or Virgin Hodegetria, is an iconographic depiction of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) holding the Child Jesus at her side while pointing to him as the source of salvation for humankind. The Virgin's head usually inclines towards the child, who raises his hand in a blessing gesture. In the Western Church this type of icon is sometimes called Our Lady of the Way.
The cities of the empire expanded, and affluence spread across the provinces because of the newfound security. The population rose, and production increased, stimulating new demand for trade. (Full article...)
The Byzantine Empire was ruled by emperors of the Komnenos dynasty for a period of 104 years, from 1081 to about 1185. The Komnenian (also spelled Comnenian) period comprises the reigns of five emperors, Alexios I, John II, Manuel I, Alexios II and Andronikos I. It was a period of sustained, though ultimately incomplete, restoration of the military, territorial, economic and political position of the Byzantine Empire.
Byzantium under the Komnenoi played a key role in the history of the Crusades in the Holy Land, while also exerting enormous cultural and political influence in Europe, the Near East, and the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. The Komnenian emperors, particularly John and Manuel, exerted great influence over the Crusader states of Outremer, whilst Alexios I played a key role in the course of the First Crusade, which he helped bring about. (Full article...)
The East Roman or Byzantine Empire established and operated several mints throughout its history. Aside from the main metropolitan mint in the capital, Constantinople, a varying number of provincial mints were also established in other urban centres, especially during the 6th century. Most provincial mints except for Syracuse were closed or lost to invasions by the mid-7th century. After the loss of Syracuse in 878, Constantinople became the sole mint for gold and silver coinage until the late 11th century, when major provincial mints began to re-appear. Many mints, both imperial and, as the Byzantine world fragmented, belonging to autonomous local rulers, were operated in the 12th to 14th centuries. Constantinople and Trebizond, the seat of the independent Empire of Trebizond (1204–1461), survived until their conquest by the Ottoman Turks in the mid-15th century. (Full article...)
In exchange for building a dedicated fleet and providing sea transport, the Republic of Venice instructed the Crusaders to pay them for the fleet. However, since not all Crusaders sailed from Venice, the Crusaders could not pay fully the price of the fleet. The Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo hence asked that the Crusaders help them capture Zadar (or Zara), on the Adriatic Sea. This led in November 1202 to the siege and sack of Zara, the first attack against a Catholic city by a Catholic Crusader army. The city was then brought under Venetian control. When the Pope heard of this, he excommunicated the Crusader army. (Full article...)
Greek fire was an incendiary weapon used by the Eastern Roman Empire beginning c. 672. Used to set fire to enemy ships, it consisted of a combustible compound emitted by a flame-throwing weapon. Some historians believe it could be ignited on contact with water, and was probably based on naphtha and quicklime. The Byzantines typically used it in naval battles to great effect, as it could continue burning while floating on water. The technological advantage it provided was responsible for many key Byzantine military victories, most notably the salvation of Constantinople from the first and second Arab sieges, thus securing the empire's survival.
The impression made by Greek fire on the western European Crusaders was such that the name was applied to any sort of incendiary weapon, including those used by Arabs, the Chinese, and the Mongols. However, these mixtures used formulas different from that of Byzantine Greek fire, which was a closely guarded state secret. Byzantines also used pressurized nozzles to project the liquid onto the enemy, in a manner resembling a modern flamethrower. (Full article...)
Alexios V Doukas (Greek: Ἀλέξιος Δούκας; c. 1140 – December 1204), in Latinised spelling Alexius V Ducas, was Byzantine emperor from February to April 1204, just prior to the sack of Constantinople by the participants of the Fourth Crusade. His family name was Doukas, but he was also known by the nickname Mourtzouphlos or Murtzuphlus (Μούρτζουφλος), referring to either bushy, overhanging eyebrows or a sullen, gloomy character. He achieved power through a palace coup, killing his predecessors in the process. Though he made vigorous attempts to defend Constantinople from the crusader army, his military efforts proved ineffective. His actions won the support of the mass of the populace, but he alienated the elite of the city. Following the fall, sack, and occupation of the city, Alexios V was blinded by another ex-emperor and later executed by the new Latin regime. He was the last Byzantine emperor to rule in Constantinople until the Byzantine recapture of Constantinople in 1261. (Full article...)
Constantine was the fourth son of Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and Helena Dragaš, the daughter of Serbian ruler Konstantin Dejanović. Little is known of his early life, but from the 1420s onward, he is repeatedly demonstrated to have been a skilled general. Based on his career and surviving contemporary sources, Constantine appears to have been primarily a soldier. This does not mean that Constantine was not also a skilled administrator: he was trusted and favored to such an extent by his older brother, Emperor John VIII Palaiologos, that he was designated as regent twice during John VIII's journeys away from Constantinople in 1423–1424 and 1437–1440. In 1427–1428, Constantine and John fended off an attack on the Morea (the Peloponnese) by Carlo I Tocco, ruler of Epirus, and in 1428 Constantine was proclaimed Despot of the Morea and ruled the province together with his older brother Theodore and his younger brother Thomas. Together, they extended Roman rule to cover almost the entire Peloponnese for the first time since the Fourth Crusade more than two hundred years before and rebuilt the ancient Hexamilion wall, which defended the peninsula from outside attacks. Although ultimately unsuccessful, Constantine personally led a campaign into Central Greece and Thessaly in 1444–1446, attempting to extend Byzantine rule into Greece once more. (Full article...)
Alexios III Megas Komnenos (Greek: Αλέξιος Μέγας Κομνηνός, 5 October 1338 – 20 March 1390), or Alexius III, was Emperor of Trebizond from December 1349 until his death. He is perhaps the best-documented ruler of that country, and his reign is distinguished by a number of religious grants and literary creations.
Bardanes, nicknamed Tourkos, "the Turk" (Greek: Βαρδάνης ὁ Τοῦρκος, romanized: Bardanēs ho Tourkos, fl. 795–803), was a Byzantine general of Armenian origin who launched an unsuccessful rebellion against Emperor Nikephoros I (r. 802–811) in 803. Although a major supporter of Byzantine empressIrene of Athens (r. 797–802), soon after her overthrow he was appointed by Nikephoros as commander-in-chief of the Anatolian armies. From this position, he launched a revolt in July 803, probably in opposition to Nikephoros's economic and religious policies. His troops marched towards Constantinople, but failed to win popular support. At this point, some of his major supporters deserted him and, reluctant to engage the loyalist forces in battle, Bardanes gave up and chose to surrender himself. He retired as a monk to a monastery he had founded. There he was blinded, possibly on Nikephoros's orders. (Full article...)
Alexios I Megas Komnenos (Greek: Αλέξιος Κομνηνός; c. 1182 – 1 February 1222) or Alexius I Megas Comnenus was, with his brother David, the founder of the Empire of Trebizond and its ruler from 1204 until his death in 1222. The two brothers were the only male descendants of the Byzantine EmperorAndronikos I, who had been dethroned and killed in 1185, and thus claimed to represent the legitimate government of the Empire following the conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Although his rivals governing the Nicaean Empire succeeded in becoming the de facto successors, and rendered his dynastic claims to the imperial throne moot, Alexios' descendants continued to emphasize both their heritage and connection to the Komnenian dynasty by later referring to themselves as Megas Komnenos ("grand Komnenos").
While his brother David conquered a number of Byzantine provinces in northwestern Anatolia, Alexios defended his capital Trebizond from an unsuccessful siege by the Seljuk Turks around the year 1205. Further details of his reign are sparse. Muslim chroniclers record how, in 1214, Alexios was captured by the Turks in the field while defending Sinope; despite sending an envoy to seek their surrender the city refused to capitulate to Sultan Kaykaus I, and Alexios was tortured in sight of the Sinopians. The city submitted to Kaykaus and Alexios was freed after becoming Kaykaus' vassal. Alexios died at the age of forty. (Full article...)
Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes version of the chronicle of John Skylitzes depicting Thomas, on horseback and dressed as a Byzantine emperor, negotiating with the Arabs. The rebellion of Thomas is one of the most richly illustrated episodes in the chronicle.
An army officer of Slavic origin from the Pontus region (now north-eastern Turkey), Thomas rose to prominence, along with the future emperors Michael II and Leo V the Armenian (r. 813–820), under the protection of general Bardanes Tourkos. After Bardanes' failed rebellion in 803, Thomas fell into obscurity until Leo V's rise to the throne, when Thomas was raised to a senior military command in central Asia Minor. After the murder of Leo and usurpation of the throne by Michael the Amorian, Thomas revolted, claiming the throne for himself. Thomas quickly secured support from most of the themes (provinces) and troops in Asia Minor, defeated Michael's initial counter-attack and concluded an alliance with the Abbasid Caliphate. After winning over the maritime themes and their ships as well, he crossed with his army to Europe and laid siege to Constantinople. The imperial capital withstood Thomas's attacks by land and sea, while Michael II called for help from the Bulgarian ruler khanOmurtag. Omurtag attacked Thomas's army, but although repelled, the Bulgarians inflicted heavy casualties on Thomas's men, who broke and fled when Michael took to the field a few months later. Thomas and his supporters sought refuge in Arcadiopolis, where he was soon blockaded by Michael's troops. In the end, Thomas's supporters surrendered him in exchange for a pardon, and he was executed. (Full article...)
Nikephoros II Phokas (Νικηφόρος Φωκᾶς; c. 912 – 11 December 969), LatinizedNicephorus II Phocas, was Byzantine emperor from 963 to 969. His career, not uniformly successful in matters of statecraft or of war, nonetheless included brilliant military exploits which contributed to the resurgence of the Byzantine Empire during the 10th century. In the east, Nikephoros completed the conquest of Cilicia and even retook the islands of Crete and Cyprus, thus opening the path for subsequent Byzantine incursions reaching as far as Upper Mesopotamia and the Levant; these campaigns earned him the sobriquet "pale death of the Saracens". Meanwhile in the west, he inflamed conflict with the Bulgarians and saw Sicily completely turn over to the Muslims, while he failed to make any serious gains in Italy following the incursions of Otto I. At home, Nikephoros' administrative policies caused controversy. He financed his wars with increased taxes both on the people and on the church, while maintaining unpopular theological positions and alienating many of his most powerful allies. These included his nephew John Tzimiskes, who would take the throne after killing Nikephoros in his sleep. (Full article...)
Gold solidus struck during the revolt of the Heraclii, depicting Heraclius the Elder and his son, the future Emperor Heraclius, wearing consular robes.
John has been assessed as the greatest of the Komnenian emperors. In the course of the quarter-century of his reign, John made alliances with the Holy Roman Empire in the west, decisively defeated the Pechenegs, Hungarians and Serbs in the Balkans, and personally led numerous campaigns against the Turks in Asia Minor. John's campaigns fundamentally changed the balance of power in the east, forcing the Turks onto the defensive and restoring to the Byzantines many towns, fortresses and cities across the Anatolian peninsula. In the southeast, John extended Byzantine control from the Maeander in the west all the way to Cilicia and Tarsus in the east. In an effort to demonstrate the Byzantine ideal of the emperor's role as the leader of the Christian world, John marched into MuslimSyria at the head of the combined forces of Byzantium and the Crusader states; yet despite the great vigour with which he pressed the campaign, John's hopes were disappointed by the evasiveness of his Crusader allies and their reluctance to fight alongside his forces. (Full article...)
Seal of Michael I Komnenos Doukas in a coin (early 1200s, reconstruction by Gustave Schlumberger in 1884)
Married to a Thessalian Vlach woman, John first appears leading Vlach troops alongside his father in the lead-up to the Battle of Pelagonia in 1259. His defection to the camp of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos was crucial in the battle, which ended with the crushing defeat of the Epirotes' Latin allies and opened the way for the recovery of Constantinople and the re-establishment of the Byzantine Empire under Palaiologos in 1261. John quickly returned to the side of his father and brother, Nikephoros, and assisted them in recovering Epirus and Thessaly. After Michael II died, John Doukas became ruler of Thessaly with his seat at Neopatras, whence Western chroniclers often erroneously called him "Duke of Neopatras". (Full article...)
Justinian II (Latin: Iustinianus; Greek: Ἰουστινιανός, romanized: Ioustinianos; 668/69 – 4 November 711), surnamed Rhinotmetos or Rhinotmetus (ὁ Ῥινότμητος, "the slit-nosed"), was the last Eastern Roman emperor of the Heraclian dynasty, reigning from 685 to 695 and again from 705 to 711. Like Justinian I, Justinian II was an ambitious and passionate ruler who was keen to restore the Roman Empire to its former glories, but he responded brutally to any opposition to his will and lacked the finesse of his father, Constantine IV. Consequently, he generated enormous opposition to his reign, resulting in his deposition in 695 in a popular uprising. He only returned to the throne in 705 with the help of a Bulgar and Slav army. His second reign was even more despotic than the first, and it too saw his eventual overthrow in 711. He was abandoned by his army, who turned on him before killing him. (Full article...)
Theodora became involved in political matters only late into her life. After the death of her father Constantine VIII in 1028, Theodora's older sister Zoë co-ruled with her husbands Romanos III, Michael IV and finally Michael V, keeping Theodora closely watched. After two foiled plots, Theodora was exiled to an island monastery in the Sea of Marmara in 1031. A decade later, the people of Constantinople rose against Michael V and insisted that she return to rule alongside her sister Zoë. (Full article...)
Born in Hispania, Theodosius was the son of a high-ranking general under whose guidance he rose through the ranks of the Roman Army. Theodosius held independent command in Moesia in 374, where he had some success against the invading Sarmatians. Not long afterwards, he was forced into retirement, and his father was executed under obscure circumstances. Theodosius soon regained his position following a series of intrigues and executions at the emperor Gratian's court. In 379, after the eastern Roman emperor Valens perished at the Battle of Adrianople against the Goths, Gratian appointed Theodosius as a successor with orders to take charge of the current military emergency. The new emperor's resources, and depleted armies, were not sufficient to drive the invaders out; in 382 the Goths were allowed to settle south of the Danube as autonomous allies of the Empire. In 386, Theodosius signed a treaty with the Sasanian Empire which partitioned the long-disputed Kingdom of Armenia and secured a durable peace between the two powers. (Full article...)
Irene of Athens (Greek: Εἰρήνη, Eirénē; 750/756 – 9 August 803), surname Sarantapechaina (Σαρανταπήχαινα), was Byzantine empress consort to Emperor Leo IV from 775 to 780, regent during the childhood of their son Constantine VI from 780 until 790, co-ruler from 792 until 797, and finally empress regnant and sole ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire from 797 to 802. A member of the politically prominent Sarantapechos family, she was selected as Leo IV's bride for unknown reasons in 768. Even though her husband was an iconoclast, she harbored iconophile sympathies. During her rule as regent, she called the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, which condemned iconoclasm as heretical and brought an end to the first iconoclast period (730–787). Her public figure was very polarizing during her 5 year reign, as most saw a woman not right to solely rule. Her sole reign made her the first ever empress regnant, ruling in her own right, in Roman and Byzantine imperial history.
She was influential in government policies during her husband's reign. His untimely death caused the throne to actually fall to her, leaving her solely in charge. As Irene's son Constantine reached maturity, he began to move out from under the influence of his mother. In the early 790s, several revolts tried to proclaim him as sole ruler. One of these revolts succeeded, but in 792, Irene was re-established in all imperial powers as co-emperor with Constantine. In 797, Irene organized a conspiracy in which her supporters gouged out her son's eyes, maiming him severely. He was imprisoned and probably died shortly afterwards. With him out of the way, Irene proclaimed herself sole ruler. Pope Leo III—already seeking to break links with the Byzantine East—used Irene's alleged unprecedented status as a female ruler of the Roman Empire to proclaim Charlemagne emperor of the Holy Roman Empire on Christmas Day of 800 under the pretext that a woman could not rule and so the throne of the Roman Empire was actually vacant. A revolt in 802 overthrew Irene and exiled her to the island of Lesbos, supplanting her on the throne with Nikephoros I. Irene died in exile less than a year later. (Full article...)
Miniature from the manuscript of Pachymeres' Historia
Andronikos II Palaiologos (Greek: Ἀνδρόνικος Δούκας Ἄγγελος Κομνηνὸς Παλαιολόγος, romanized: Andrónikos Doúkās Ángelos Komnēnós Palaiologos; 25 March 1259 – 13 February 1332), usually Latinized as Andronicus II Palaeologus, reigned as Byzantine emperor from 1282 to 1328. Andronikos' reign was marked by the beginning of the decline of the Byzantine Empire. During his reign, the Turks conquered most of the Western Anatolian territories of the Empire and, during the last years of his reign, he also had to fight his grandson Andronikos in the First Palaiologan Civil War. The civil war ended in Andronikos II's forced abdication in 1328 after which he retired to a monastery, where he spent the last four years of his life. (Full article...)
Symeon the New Theologian (Greek: Συμεὼν ὁ Νέος Θεολόγος; 949–1022) was an Eastern Orthodox Christian monk and poet who was the last of three saints canonized by the Eastern Orthodox Church and given the title of "Theologian" (along with John the Apostle and Gregory of Nazianzus). "Theologian" was not applied to Symeon in the modern academic sense of theological study; the title was designed only to recognize someone who spoke from personal experience of the vision of God. One of his principal teachings was that humans could and should experience theoria (literally "contemplation," or direct experience of God).
Symeon was born into the Byzantine nobility and given a traditional education. At age fourteen he met Symeon the Studite, a renowned monk of the Monastery of Stoudios in Constantinople, who convinced him to give his own life to prayer and asceticism under the elder Symeon's guidance. By the time he was thirty, Symeon the New Theologian became the abbot of the Monastery of Saint Mamas, a position he held for twenty-five years. He attracted many monks and clergy with his reputation for sanctity, though his teachings brought him into conflict with church authorities, who would eventually send him into exile. His most well known disciple was Nicetas Stethatos who wrote the Life of Symeon. (Full article...)
Anna Komnene (Greek: Ἄννα Κομνηνή, romanized: Ánna Komnēnḗ; 1 December 1083 – 1153), commonly Latinized as Anna Comnena, was a Byzantine princess and author of the Alexiad, an account of the reign of her father, the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos. The Alexiad is the most important primary source of Byzantine history of the late 11th and early 12th centuries. Although she is best known as the author of the Alexiad, Anna played an important part in the politics of the time and attempted to depose her brother, John II Komnenos, as emperor and seize the throne herself.
At birth, Anna was betrothed to Constantine Doukas, and she grew up in his mother's household. She was well-educated in "Greek literature and history, philosophy, theology, mathematics, and medicine." Anna and Constantine were next in the line to throne until Anna's younger brother, John II Komnenos, became the heir in 1092. Constantine died around 1094, and Anna married Nikephoros Bryennios in 1097. The two had several children before Nikephoros' death around 1136. (Full article...)
When he was fifteen years old, in 1030, Harald fought in the Battle of Stiklestad together with his half-brother Olaf Haraldsson (later Saint Olaf). Olaf sought to reclaim the Norwegian throne, which he had lost to the Danish king Cnut the Great two years prior. In the battle, Olaf and Harald were defeated by forces loyal to Cnut, and Harald was forced into exile to Kievan Rus' (the sagas' Garðaríki). He thereafter spent some time in the army of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, eventually obtaining rank as a captain, until he moved on to Constantinople with his companions around 1034. In Constantinople, he soon rose to become the commander of the Byzantine Varangian Guard, and saw action on the Mediterranean Sea, in Asia Minor, Sicily, possibly in the Holy Land, Bulgaria and in Constantinople itself, where he became involved in the imperial dynastic disputes. Harald amassed considerable wealth during his time in the Byzantine Empire, which he shipped to Yaroslav in Kievan Rus' for safekeeping. He finally left the Byzantines in 1042, and arrived back in Kievan Rus' in order to prepare his campaign of reclaiming the Norwegian throne. Possibly to Harald's knowledge, in his absence the Norwegian throne had been restored from the Danes to Olaf's illegitimate son Magnus the Good. (Full article...)
In his early life, Maximus was a civil servant, and an aide to the Byzantine EmperorHeraclius. He gave up this life in the political sphere to enter the monastic life. Maximus had studied diverse schools of philosophy, and certainly what was common for his time, the Platonic dialogues, the works of Aristotle, and numerous later Platonic commentators on Aristotle and Plato, like Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus. When one of his friends began espousing the Christological position known as Monothelitism, Maximus was drawn into the controversy, in which he supported an interpretation of the Chalcedonian formula on the basis of which it was asserted that Jesus had both a human and a divine will. Maximus is venerated in both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. He was eventually persecuted for his Christological positions; following a trial, his tongue and right hand were mutilated. (Full article...)
Peter the Patrician (Latin: Petrus Patricius, Greek: Πέτρος ὁ Πατρίκιος, Petros ho Patrikios; c. 500–565) was a senior Byzantine official, diplomat, and historian. A well-educated and successful lawyer, he was repeatedly sent as envoy to Ostrogothic Italy in the prelude to the Gothic War of 535–554. Despite his diplomatic skill, he was not able to avert war, and was imprisoned by the Goths in Ravenna for a few years. Upon his release, he was appointed to the post of magister officiorum, head of the imperial secretariat, which he held for an unparalleled 26 years. In this capacity, he was one of the leading ministers of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565), playing an important role in the Byzantine emperor's religious policies and the relations with Sassanid Persia; most notably he led the negotiations for the peace agreement of 562 that ended the 20-year-long Lazic War. His historical writings survive only in fragments, but provide unique source material on early Byzantine ceremonies and diplomatic issues between Byzantium and the Sassanids. (Full article...)