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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

BlogPoll Review.

Favorite Byzantine Emperors/Empresses

Oh, no, not the Byzantium thing. 16 votes.
--I've addressed your blinkered, philistine pig-ignorance before. Rotating knives, yes.

Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118). 3 votes.
--Just three? A great emperor, and his biography is still in paperback, written by the equally-remarkable but never-empress Anna Comnena.

Basil I (867-886). 2 votes.
Harry Turtledove has fictionalized his remarkable life in the Krispos of Videssos books. The great rags-to-riches story of the Empire.

Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer (976-1025). 5 votes.
I'm not the Basil-phile I used to be: he dramatically, and I think mistakenly, changed the course of the Empire from East to West. While a successful and competent general, he was hyper-cautious. And he never secured a succession for the Macedonian dynasty. Oh, and he probably did not blind 15,000 Bulgar soldiers after the Battle of the Kleidon Pass. The first account of this event dates from the 12th Century, and cuts against every past policy of the Empire, which was to enlist and resettle defeated enemies. It would have been regarded as a staggering, stupid waste.

Constans II (641-668). 2 votes.
The true initiator of the thematic "land for soldiers" system and the last emperor to visit Rome. OK, the martyrdom of Pope St. Martin weighs in the debit ledger.

Constantine IV (668-685). 2 votes.
Probably the main reason you aren't going to Friday prayers at the mosque. Also convened the Second Council of Constantinople.

Constantine V (741-775). 1 vote.
I guess there's a little gore-caked iconoclast in everyone. His nickname--Copronymous--or Dung-name--stems from the allegation that he took a dump during his baptism.

Constantine VII (913-959). 2 votes.
Poor kid didn't actually get the chance to rule until 945, and he had a wife forced upon him by his sorta-usurping father in law, Romanus I. But a decent ruler and his writings give essential insight into 10th Century Byzantine life.

Constantine XI (1449-1453). 6 votes.
The Last Emperor, and a tragic hero.

Heraclius (610-641). 6 votes.
One of the Great Captains, his stunning victory over Persia is eclipsed by the eruption of Islam. Accused of passivity in the face of the Islamic threat, it is essential to note that Byzantium survived and Persia did not.

Irene (797-802). 1 vote.
The first reigning empress, she's hard to love. Blinding your own son will do that for your reputation.

John I Tzimiskes (969-976). 2 votes.
The greatest of the soldier-emperors, the Abbasid Caliphate probably thought it caught a break when he assassinated Nicephorus II. The Caliphate was wrong. His armies reached Nazareth, and he was contemplating an invasion of Egypt when he died. More than likely assassinated, if he'd lived another 10 years, the history of the Near East would have been changed beyond recognition.

John II Comnenus (1118-1143). 3 votes.
Another case of "he died too young." The greatest of the Comneni and a fine human being. His sister, Anna the historian, despised him for the temerity of being born and ruining her chances at the throne. She plotted against him, the plan being to install her husband as emperor. The irony is that the husband probably ratted out the conspiracy. Whatever is the case, John II treated the plotters with remarkable leniency.

John III Vatatzes (1221-1254). 2 votes.
The greatest of the Nicean Emperors in exile, he understood economics better than most Byzantines and made the Nicean rump state a force to be reckoned with and the eventual victor in the Constantinople Sweepstakes. He is revered as a saint by the Orthodox.

John VI Cantacuzenus (1347-1354). 1 vote.
Fine soldier, learned theologian, along with being a brave, intelligent and virtuous man, he also signed the death warrant of the Empire with his alliance with the Ottoman Turks.

Justinian I (527-565). 6 votes.
The Last Roman. It wasn't his conquests that weakened the empire (though his wars in Italy were fought on a paranoid shoestring)--t'was the plague.

Justinian II (685-695, 705-711). 1 vote.
The comeback kid! Actually, an object lesson in giving your child too hi-falutin' a name. He tried to do too much with too little (the Empire was a stable patient, not recovered) and dealt with his enemies by killing them in large numbers. Real and imagined. Also the subject of a Harry Turtledove (pen name H.N. Turteltaub) work, this time straight historical fiction.

Leo III (717-741). 2 votes.
Yeah, yeah--an iconoclast. But not as psycho about it as his son. Another saver of the collective Western bacon, fending off the Arab siege of 717-18.

Leo VI (the Wise) (886-912). 4 votes.
The Byzantine Henry VIII, with one caveat--his first three wives all died of natural causes. The Orthodox are opposed to third weddings, regardless of reason, but he went for a fourth (after his mistress gave birth to a son, the future Constantine VII). And got it. But only after outlawing third marriages in his reissued law code, the promulgation of which gave him the sobriquet "the Wise."

Also, while he was the legal son of Basil I, it is all too likely that he was the biological son of Michael III. Basil agreed to marry Michael's mistress to keep her close by at court and to supress scandal. A grubby little arrangement, to be sure.


Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180). 3 votes.
The Knight-Emperor, and the last monarch of Byzantium as a great power. Too flighty in his foreign policy, he addressed the wrong problems at the wrong time.

Manuel II Paleologus (1391-1425). 10 votes.
Yes, yes, the Pope's speech. A genuinely great man and leader, he should have been born about fifty years earlier. As it was, he had too few cards to play, but he played them as well as he could.

Michael III (the Drunkard) (842-867). 6 votes.
That's right, this is a blog frequented by Papists. And not, very likely, fans of this "last" member of the Amorian dynasty. A sot and a doofus, but well advised for the most part. Murdered by Basil I, he probably had a posthumous revenge in Leo VI.

Michael VIII Paleologus (1259-1282). 1 vote.
Called the new Constantine for his rebuilding of Constantinople after its recovery, his reputation is stained by the blinding of John IV Laskaris, his ward, and his squandering of the Nicean recovery on his battles in the west.

Nicephorus II Phocas (963-969). 2 votes.
The soldier-monk and the "White Death of the Saracens." Despite success on the battlefield, he was as popular as tooth decay and had a knack for making enemies. Including his nephew and assassin, John I.

Romanus I Lecapenos (919-944). 1 vote.
The Nice Usurper, he was the genuine protector of the young Constantine VII. Constantine's biggest complaint was that his father-in-law wouldn't give him a big enough budget for his artistic and scholarly work.

Romanus IV Diogenes (1067-1071). 2 votes.
Known to history as the defeated commander at Manzikert, he lost because he was betrayed by an imperial rival. He correctly diagnosed the decay of Byzantine power and was in the process of remedying it when he was defeated.

Theophano. 1 vote.
The wife of two emperors (Romanus II and Nicephorus II), mother of two more (Basil II and Constanine VIII) and lover of a fifth (John I), she was a stunningly beautiful innkeeper's daughter who caught the eye of Romanus II. When he died young after a shockingly short reign, there were whispers that she was behind it. Pure slander, as it appears that they were devoted to each other. Moreover, it would have been stupid as she had no other friends at court by virtue of her commoner status. Her marriage to Nicephorus was one of convenience and protection for her two young sons. Given Nicephorus' ascetism, it probably wasn't too demanding. She was in it up to her eyeballs conspiring in the murder of Nicephorus. It didn't take much prodding for John I to shunt her aside after he was crowned.

Theodora (Justinian I) 3 votes.
Immortalized at Ravenna, she is one of the remarkable figures of Western history, let alone Byzantium. Steely determination during the Nike Riots, loving to her husband (sadly, their one son was stillborn--and ignore Procopius' poison pen) and absolute death on child molesters, Theodora is one for the ages. Justinian never quite recovered his administrative verve after her death, likely from cancer.

Theodora (Restorer of Icons). 18 votes.
Unless I've had a stunning influx of Orthodox readers, yeah, right--like you know who she was. Her decision to restore icons in 843 is still celebrated in Orthodoxy, and also by art aficionados everywhere. Rightly venerated as a saint by the Orthodox.

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