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Byzantine Chronicle

 Numbers & Statistics for the Byzantine emperors
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  Byzantine Reigns in Numbers
▼      Numbers of Byzantine Emperors

The total number of Byzantine emperors was 94

The 94 Byzantine Emperors reigned over a period of 1123 years (330-1453)


Other numbers

  • 20 Byzantine emperors started as usurpers. They had seized the throne, somehow, from the previous emperor.
  • 4 of the 94 Byzantine rulers were women
  • 7 of the 94 Byzantine rulers never set foot in Constantinople as emperors. Those were 4 emperors of the Nicaean period plus Jovian, Gratian and Staurakios.
  • 10 emperors were minors (under 16) when they became emperors. 4 of them never reached adulthood.
  • 7 of the emperors, for different reasons, never actually ruled the empire (4 of them from the previous group).
  • 4 emperors were epileptic: Zeno, Michael IV, John III Vatatzes, Theodore II Laskaris
  • 2 emperors were insane for some years before their death: Justin II and Heraklios. Justin’s folly was more serious, while Heraklios suffered from a sort of old age dementia.
  • At least 50 emperors had at least one co-emperor during their reign.
    35 emperors had been co-emperors before becoming senior rulers.
  • 10 to 14 emperors are saints of the Orthodox church (for 4 of them, the saintly status is unclear).
  • 23 emperors had a violent death: 5 in battle, 7 in revolts, 6 murdered, 5 died after their blinding.
  • 31 emperors were deposed before their death
  • More than 30 emperors had to deal with a serious, large scale revolt against them.
  • 8 emperors had an "interrupted" reign i.e. they were deposed for some time and they managed to return (see the section with the "Interrupted reigns" below).

Remarks

  • These 94 people were never called in their time "Byzantine emperors". They had the title of Augustus or Caesar (in the first centuries) and later the title King ("Βασιλεύς") or Emperor ("Αυτοκράτωρ") and sometimes other excessive titles like "Kosmocrator" (ruler of the world)
  • The 94 emperors were those who were the nominal sole rulers or the senior rulers of Byzantium. This definition leaves out of the group of 94 some semi-successful usurpers (like Artabasdos or Procopius) and some powerful regents (like Pulcheria) who are counted as emperors by some historians. It also leaves out the numerous co-emperors most of which never achieved the status of the sole or senior ruler
▼      Ascension to the throne

The Byzantine Emperors ascended to the throne in a number of different ways:

  • 37 succeeded their father (~40%). This group includes some rulers who did not become emperors immediately after the death of their father, like Basil II.
  • 10 succeeded some other family member (uncle, brother, grand-father). 2 of them (Zeno and Irene) succeeded their sons.
  • 4 emperors were elected by the people or the army or both
  • 5 were chosen and appointed by the previous emperor without family ties or any other obvious personal connection (Theodosius I is a prime example)
  • 4 emperors were the choice of other powerful figures of Byzantine politics. Figures, with extreme power but without qualifications to become emperor themselves: Marcian and Leo I were chosen by Aspar the Alan and Michael IV and Michael V were chosen by John the Eunuch.
  • 5 emperors imposed themselves. Those were strong people who gathered power and support, exploited a leadership void or a weak emperor, and ascended to the throne without serious resistance (examples: Michael VIII, Romanos Lekapenos).
  • 16 emperors (17%) ascended to the throne after a relatively large-scale popular uprising or military revolt
  • 7 became emperors after a successful plot against the previous emperor. Plots were violent regime changes but, unlike the revolts, they were organized by a small group of ambitious people, without wider support. Most successful plots and revolts ended with the assassination or blinding of the dethroned emperor.
  • 8 became emperors after marrying the right person (an empress or the widow/sister/daughter of the previous emperor). 3 of them were husbands of empress Zoe.
▼      Reign Length

The length of the reign of the 94 Byzantine emperors varied from a few months to almost half a century

Reign Duration statistics

The average duration of the reign of the Byzantine emperors was 12 years.

Out of the 94 emperors:

  • 12 reigned for less than a year
  • 9 reigned for a period of 12 to 30 months
  • 26 reigned for a period of 2.5 to 8 years
  • 16 reigned for 9 to 16 years
  • 11 reigned for 17 to 24 years
  • 11 reigned for 25 to 35 years
  • 8 reigned for period longer than 35 years

The longest reigns:

Basil II Bulgaroktonos (976-1025: 49 years)
An excellent leader whose long effective reign led to one of the best periods of Byzantium ("the Apogee").

Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328: 46 years)
For a great part of his reign (1295-1320), his son and co-emperor Michael IX was the real ruler. Overall, a very unfortunate reign. The Turks prevailed in Minor Asia.

Theodosius II (408-450: 42 years)
In all these years he left the governing of his empire to others. Probably he was not incompetent, just indifferent. The empire had serious problems with the Huns but without major losses.

John V Palaiologos (1341-1391, with breaks: 38 years)
A disastrous reign. He was deposed several times and the Turks conquered the Balkans.

Justinian I (527-565: 38 years)
The greatest Byzantine emperor in a reign that shaped Byzantium.

Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118: 37 years)
He started the last good period of the Byzantine empire ("The Komnenian recovery")

Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180: 37 years)
The last great emperor. But he failed in Myriokefalon.

Constantine V Kopronymos (741-775: 34 years)
He was hated for his iconoclastic policies but he was successful against Arabs and Bulgars, after decades of failures and big losses.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenetos (913-959: 46 years)
He was nominally the emperor for a long time but he was actually the ruler (a good one) for a net period of only 14 years.

▼      Interrupted Reigns

Not all the reigns in Byzantine history were continuous. Some of them were "interrupted". That means that some emperors were far from the throne for a while and they managed to come back later.

8 emperors belong in this category:

  • Zeno (474-475 & 476-491)
    Basiliscus seized the throne and was emperor for about a year but Zeno led an army against him and took the throne back.
  • Justinian II Rhinotmetos (685-695 & 705-711)
    He was dethroned and mutilated by Leontios. 10 years and 2 emperors later, he made a spectacular comeback.
  • Constantine VII Porphyrogenetos (913-959)
    Officially, he was emperor for 46 years. But in the beginning, he was too young and later, his father-in-law Romanos I Lekapenos became senior emperor for 24 years (920-944). After the deposition of Lekapenos, Constantine, who had remained an inactive and ignored co-emperor, became sovereign for real.
  • Theodora (1042 & 1055-1056)
    She reigned for 2 months in 1042, together with her sister Zoe. After Zoe’s third marriage, she withdrew, to come back alone on the throne after the death of Zoe’s third husband. In the meantime, she had been co-emperor without powers.
  • Michael VII Doukas (1067-1068 & 1071-1078)
    He was emperor during his minority under the regency of his mother. When she married Romanos Diogenes, he lost his throne. He regained his title after the defeat of Romanos in Manzikert.
  • Isaac II Angelos (1185-1195 & 1203-1204)
    He was dethroned and blinded by his brother Alexios III. He was brought back when the crusaders were outside Constantinople, with their support. In his second period, he co-ruled with his son Alexios IV.
  • John V Palaiologos (1341-1391)
    The champion of the "interrupted reigns" category. Emperor for 4 non-successive periods: From 1341 until 1347, he was under the regency of Kantakouzenos, who seized the throne for 7 years (1347-1354). He became senior emperor again in 1354 until 1376. Deposed by his son, he came back in 1379. In 1390, his grandson, John VII, had temporarily usurped the throne.
  • John VII Palaiologos (1390 & 1399-1402)
    He had dethroned his grand-father (John V) and was emperor for some months in 1390. He was ousted and later, in 1399, he became co-emperor with Manuel II Palaiologos. He was the de-facto ruler during the 2-years journey of Manuel to Europe.
▼      Overlapping reigns

Some of the 94 emperors co-existed on the throne and had reigns that overlapped each other .

In the Byzantine history there were 9 periods that two emperors coexisted on the throne. In 5 of these periods, empress Zoe was involved

  • Constantine III & Heraklonas (641)
    Sons of Heraklios. The are always mentioned together as if they were not individuals. Their reign was too short so neither had the opportunity to depose the other and be recorded as a singe ruler.
  • Zoe and various others (1028-1050)
    Zoe was a unique case: She never ruled alone. She never ruled at all actually. Always a co-empress (with 5 other emperors) and never the acting ruler. But, none of her co-emperors would be accepted without her.
    She first married Romanos III Argyros. After his death, she married, the same day, her lover Michael IV. After the death of Michael IV, she adopted his nephew who became Michael V. When this one tried to banish her, the people revolted and brought back Zoe and her sister Theodora. Last, she married Constantine IX Monomachus.
  • Alexios IV Angelos & Isaac II Angelos (1203-1204)
    Alexios was Isaac’s son. They ascended to the throne with the support of the crusaders who were besieging and controlling the capital. Isaac was emperor before, in the period 1185-1195.
  • Andronikos II Palaiologos & Michael IX Palaiologos (1295-1320)
    Andronikos was emperor since 1282. He never resigned, but it seems that after 1295, his son and co-emperor Michael had the leading role in the state. Michael died before his father, in 1320.
  • Manuel II Palaiologos & John VII Palaiologos (1399-1402)
    John was the nephew and co-emperor of Manuel who was the senior ruler. In other similar cases, co-emperors are not listed among the rulers, but John VII was actually governing the state during the absence of Manuel II, when he made a 2-years long visit to Europe.


Remark

The majority of the Byzantine emperors had one or more co-emperors -usually but not always their sons- who were officially nominated as emperors but, as a rule, had a lesser role and no authority.
Co-emperors, normally, are not recorded as Byzantine emperors, unless, at some point, they became senior rulers themselves. The rulers mentioned above are the exception, because in these cases, the co-emperors had almost equal rights and powers.