Roman Emperor Zeno, Peter Crawford

Roman Emperor Zeno, Peter Crawford


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Roman Emperor Zeno, Peter Crawford

Roman Emperor Zeno, Peter Crawford

Flavius Zeno Augustus is most famous for being the Eastern Roman Emperor when the last western Emperor was deposed in 476, but his reign turns out to be interesting in its own right. Zeno was an Isaurian, from a rugged area of southern Asia Minor. His early life is somewhat obscure, although the author is able to come to some conclusions, and we probably know his original Isaurian name as well as his Roman name. The Isaurians were generally seen as ‘internal barbarians’, but Zeno appears to have been a fairly well regarded member of the Roman establishment before coming to power. Crawford is able to trace his career during the reign of Leo I, a period in which both parts of the Empire were troubled by migrating tribes – most famously the Huns and the Goths. One of Zeno’s biggest problems as Emperor would be to find a balance between the various war bands that were settled within the boundaries of the Empire, and it was this problem that led to one of his most significant decisions – arranging for Theoderic the Amal to invade Italy to depose Odoacer, the general who had deposed the last western Emperor.

The religious disputes of Zeno’s reign were clearly very important at the time, although to a modern reader the burning theological issues of the time appear remarkably petty. A prolonged series of debates about the precise nature of Christ had produced a series of rival theologies, which led to insanely over-exagerated clashes between their supporters. These in turn led to a series of Church Councils held in a clearly pointless attempt to come up with a compromise. The most recent of these during Zeno’s reign was the council of Chalcedon, which triggered the inevitable clashes between supporters and opponents of its conclusions. Unfortunatly for Zeno, one of his attempts to find a compromise between supporters and opponents of the Council was later used by opponents of Chalcedon, so later historians tended to assume that Zeno had also been an anti-Chalcedonian, and appear to have distorted his reputation as a result.

This is an interesting biography, looking at a period in which the Eastern Empire managed to survive a series of crisis almost a serious as the ones that destroyed the western Empire. The story of Zeno’s reign resembles a fantasy novel, with rivalrys within his court (even leading to his being briefly deposed soon after coming to the throne), family rivalries, barbarian invadors, some of whom threatened Constantiniple itself, revolts, religious disputes, and in keeping with this period of later Roman history an impressive cast of strong women, not least Zeno’s wife Ariadne, daughter of Leo I, who went on to play a major role in selecting Zeno’s successor, who she then went on to marry.

Chapters
1 – Under Pressure: The Roman Empire of the Fifth Century
2 – The Romanized ‘Barbarians’: Isauria and the Origins of Zeno
3 – Enemies in the State: The Gothic ‘Nations’ of the Theoderici
4 – Puppet on a String? The Reign of Leo I
5 – The Pressure Grows: Huns, Vandals and Assassins
6 – The Puppet Becomes the Butcher: The End of Aspar
7 – A Father Succeeding his Son: The Making of Flavius Zeno Augustus
8 – A Brief Imperial Interlude: The Usurption of Basiliscus
9 – Beholden to All: The Price of Zeno’s Restoration
10 – All Quiet on the Eastern Front?
11 – Zeno, the Christological Crisis and Imperial Religious Policy
12 – A Long Time Coming: The Revolt of Illus
13 – Zeno, Theoderic and the End of the Western Empire
14 – Demonic Possession, Vivisepluture and a Woman Scorned: The Death of Zeno and the Succession

Author: Peter Crawford
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2019



Roman Emperor Zeno

Peter Crawford examines the life and career of the fifth-century Roman emperor Zeno and the various problems he faced before and during his seventeen-year rule. Despite its length, his reign has hitherto been somewhat overlooked as being just a part of that gap between the Theodosian and Justinianic dynasties of the Eastern Roman Empire which is comparatively poorly furnished with historical sources.

Reputedly brought in as a counter-balance to the generals who had dominated Constantinopolitan politics at the end of the Theodosian dynasty, the Isaurian Zeno quickly had to prove himself adept at dealing with the harsh realities of imperial power. Zeno's life and reign is littered with conflict and politicking with various groups - the enmity of both sides of his family dealing with the fallout of the collapse of the Empire of Attila in Europe, especially the increasingly independent tribal groups established on the frontiers of, and even within, imperial territory the end of the Western Empire and the continuing religious strife within the Roman world. As a result, his reign was an eventful and significant one that deserves this long-overdue spotlight.


Roman Emperor Zeno, Peter Crawford - History

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Peter Crawford examines the life and career of the fifth-century Roman emperor Zeno and the various problems he faced before and during his seventeen-year rule. Despite its length, his reign has hitherto been somewhat overlooked as being just a part of that gap between the Theodosian and Justinianic dynasties of the Eastern Roman Empire which is comparatively poorly furnished with historical sources.

Reputedly brought in as a counter-balance to the generals who had dominated Constantinopolitan politics at the end of the Theodosian dynasty, the Isaurian Zeno quickly had to prove himself adept at dealing with the harsh realities of imperial power. Zeno's life and reign is littered with conflict and politicking with various groups - the enmity of both sides of his family dealing with the fallout of the collapse of the Empire of Attila in Europe, especially the increasingly independent tribal groups established on the frontiers of, and even within, imperial territory the end of the Western Empire and the continuing religious strife within the Roman world. As a result, his reign was an eventful and significant one that deserves this long-overdue spotlight.

This is an interesting biography, looking at a period in which the Eastern Empire managed to survive a series of crisis almost a serious as the ones that destroyed the western Empire. The story of Zeno’s reign resembles a fantasy novel, with rivalrys within his court (even leading to his being briefly deposed soon after coming to the throne), family rivalries, barbarian invadors, some of whom threatened Constantiniple itself, revolts, religious disputes, and in keeping with this period of later Roman history an impressive cast of strong women, not least Zeno’s wife Ariadne, daughter of Leo I, who went on to play a major role in selecting Zeno’s successor, who she then went on to marry.

Read the full review here

History of War

Who Was Emperor Zeno and How Did He Deal with the Fall of the Western Roman Empire?

Author article for History Hit

History Hit, September 2019

As featured by

VaeVictis - n° 144 - mars/avril 2019

This is a highly researched biography full of detail.

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

About Dr Peter Crawford

Dr Peter Crawford gained a PhD in Ancient History at Queen's University, Belfast under the tutelage of respected classicist Professor Brian Campbell. His previous books, The War of the Three Gods (2013), Constantius II (2015) and The Roman Emperor Zeno (2018) were also published by Pen & Sword. He lives in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.


Roman Emperor Zeno, Peter Crawford - History

Peter Crawford examines the life and career of the fifth-century Roman emperor Zeno and the various problems he faced before and during his seventeen-year rule. Despite its length, his reign has hitherto been somewhat overlooked as being just a part of that gap between the Theodosian and Justinianic dynasties of the Eastern Roman Empire which is comparatively poorly furnished with historical sources.

Reputedly brought in as a counterbalance to the generals who had dominated Constantinopolitan politics at the end of the Theodosian dynasty, the Isaurian Zeno quickly had to prove himself adept at dealing with the harsh realities of imperial power. Zeno's life and reign is littered with conflict and politicking with various groups - the enmity of both sides of his family dealing with the fallout of the collapse of the Empire of Attila in Europe, especially the increasingly independent tribal groups established on the frontiers of, and even within, imperial territory the end of the Western Empire and the continuing religious strife within the Roman world. As a result, his reign was an eventful and significant one that deserves this long-overdue spotlight.

About The Author

Dr Peter Crawford gained a PhD in Ancient History at Queen's University, Belfast under the tutelage of respected classicist Professor Brian Campbell. His previous books, _The War of the Three Gods_ (2013) and _Constantius II_ (2015) were also published by Pen & Sword. He lives in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

REVIEWS

"Crawford&rsquos work on the life and reign of Zeno is a good introduction for a general audience to the complexities of the late fifth-century Roman Empire, telling a series of long and complex stories compellingly in a traditional fashion."

- Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"A very useful read for anyone interested in the Later Roman Empire, the fall of the Western Empire, and the emergence of the Byzantine State."

- The NYMAS Review

"An interesting biography, looking at a period in which the Eastern Empire managed to survive a series of crisis almost a serious as the ones that destroyed the western Empire."

- History of War

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Roman Emperor Zeno The Perils of Power Politics in Fifth-Century Constantinople

Peter Crawford examines the life and career of the fifth-century Roman emperor Zeno and the various problems he faced before and during his seventeen-year rule. Despite its length, his reign has hitherto been somewhat overlooked as being just a part of that gap between the Theodosian and Justinianic dynasties of the Eastern Roman Empire which is comparatively poorly furnished with historical sources.

Reputedly brought in as a counterbalance to the generals who had dominated Constantinopolitan politics at the end of the Theodosian dynasty, the Isaurian Zeno quickly had to prove himself adept at dealing with the harsh realities of imperial power. Zeno's life and reign is littered with conflict and politicking with various groups-the enmity of both sides of his family dealing with the fallout of the collapse of the Empire of Attila in Europe, especially the increasingly independent tribal groups established on the frontiers of, and even within, imperial territory the end of the Western Empire and the continuing religious strife within the Roman world. As a result, his reign was an eventful and significant one that deserves this long-overdue spotlight.

"Crawford's work on the life and reign of Zeno is a good introduction for a general audience to the complexities of the late fifth-century Roman Empire, telling a series of long and complex stories compellingly in a traditional fashion." -Bryn Mawr Classical Review


Peter Crawford examines the life and career of the fifth-century Roman emperor Zeno and the various problems he faced before and during his seventeen-year rule. Despite its length, his reign has hitherto been somewhat overlooked as being just a part of that gap between the Theodosian and Justinianic dynasties of the Eastern Roman Empire which is comparatively poorly furnished with historical sources.

Reputedly brought in as a counter-balance to the generals who had dominated Constantinopolitan politics at the end of the Theodosian dynasty, the Isaurian Zeno quickly had to prove himself adept at dealing with the harsh realities of imperial power. Zeno's life and reign is littered with conflict and politicking with various groups - the enmity of both sides of his family dealing with the fallout of the collapse of the Empire of Attila in Europe, especially the increasingly independent tribal groups established on the frontiers of, and even within, imperial territory the end of the Western Empire and the continuing religious strife within the Roman world. As a result, his reign was an eventful and significant one that deserves this long-overdue spotlight.
show more


Roman Emperor Zeno: The Perils of Power Politics in Fifth-Century Constantinople

Peter Crawford examines the life and career of the fifth-century Roman emperor Zeno and the various problems he faced before and during his seventeen-year rule. Despite its length, his reign has hitherto been somewhat overlooked as being just a part of that gap between the Theodosian and Justinianic dynasties of the Eastern Roman Empire which is comparatively poorly furnished with historical sources.

Reputedly brought in as a counterbalance to the generals who had dominated Constantinopolitan politics at the end of the Theodosian dynasty, the Isaurian Zeno quickly had to prove himself adept at dealing with the harsh realities of imperial power. Zeno's life and reign is littered with conflict and politicking with various groups - the enmity of both sides of his family dealing with the fallout of the collapse of the Empire of Attila in Europe, especially the increasingly independent tribal groups established on the frontiers of, and even within, imperial territory the end of the Western Empire and the continuing religious strife within the Roman world. As a result, his reign was an eventful and significant one that deserves this long-overdue spotlight.


Rise to Power

To make himself more acceptable to the Roman hierarchy and the population of Constantinople, Tarasis adopted the Greek name of Zeno and used it for the rest of his life. In mid-late 466 Zeno married Ariadne, elder daughter of Leo I and Verina after the death of his previous wife. The next year their son was born, and Zeno become father of the heir apparent to the throne, as the only son of Leo I's had died in his infancy to stress his claim to the throne, the boy was named Leo, after the emperor himself. Zeno, however, was not present at the birth of his son, as in 467 he participated to a military campaign against a Germanic tribe in the Balkans.

Zeno, as member of the protectores domestici, did not take part in the disastrous Roman expedition against the German Vandals, led in 468 by Leo I's brother-in-law, Basiliscus. The following year, during which he held the honour of the consulate, he was appointed magister militum per Thracias and led an expedition in Thrace to defend Constantinople itself. Around this time, Zeno discovered he would have been the target of a conspiracy but had escaped unharmed. What happened was that Leo I sent some of his personal soldiers with Zeno to protect him, but they were bribed by Aspar to actually capture him. Zeno was informed of their intention and fled to Serdica, and because of this episode Leo grew even more suspicious of Aspar and left Constantinople.

After the attack, Zeno did not return to Constantinople, where Aspar still held considerable power. Instead he moved to the "Long Wall" (the Chersonese Long Wall or, less probably, the Anastasian Wall), then to Pylai and from there to Chalcedon. While waiting here for an opportunity to return in the capital, he was appointed magister militum per Orientem. He took the Roman monk Peter the Fuller with him and left for Antioch, his office's see, passing through Asia Minor, where he put down a small rebellion. Zeno then stayed at Antioch, Syria, for two years.

While living in Antioch with his family, Zeno sympathised with the religious views of Peter the Fuller, and supported him against his opponent, the Chalcedonian bishop Martyrius. Zeno allowed the arrival in Antioch from nearby monasteries of monks who increased the number of Peter's followers, and did not repress effectively their violences. Martyrius went to Constantinople, to ask Leo for help, but returning to Antioch he was informed that Peter had been elected bishop and resigned (470). Leo reacted by ordering Peter exiled and addressing to Zeno that a Roman law that forbade the monks to leave their monasteries and to promote rebellion (1 June 471).

With Zeno far from Constantinople, Aspar had increased his influence having his son Julius Patricius appointed to a high position in the emperor's court and married to Leo I's younger daughter, Leontia (470). In 471 Leo I had Aspar treacherously killed, with Zeno's approval. In the eve of the murders, Zeno moved closer to Constantinople, expecting his return. After Aspar's death, Zeno returned to Constantinople and was appointed magister militum praesentalis.

As Emperor

On 25 October 473 Leo I appointed Caesar his nephew Leo II, the son of Zeno and Ariadne. On 18 January 474 Leo I died if Leo II had not already been proclaimed co-emperor by his grandfather, he become Augustus in that occasion. Since Leo II was seven years old, too young to rule himself, Ariadne and her mother Verina prevailed upon him to crown Zeno, his father, as co-emperor, which he did on February 9, 474. When Leo II became ill and died on November 17, Zeno I became sole emperor.

Emperor Zeno first had to settle the matters with the Vandals, who harassed the Eastern Roman Empire's valuable sea commercial routes with their incursions on the coastal cities of the Empire. Zeno sent them a high-ranking officer as ambassador, Severus, who succeeded in stipulating a peace treaty between the Vandals and the Eastern Empire, a peace which allowed the Romans to pay ransoms for the prisoners in Vandal hands and which ended the Vandal persecution of Christians in the their territory.

Despite this success, Zeno continued to be unpopular with the people and senate because of his Barbarian origins his right to the throne was limited to his marriage with Ariadne and his relationship to Verina, the dowager empress. Therefore he chose to support himself on the Anatolian component of the army, in particular to strengthen his bond with the Isaurian generals and brothers Illus and Trocundes. However, Verina decided to overthrow her son-in-law Zeno and replace him with her lover, the ex-magister officiorum Patricius, with the help of her brother Basiliscus. The conspirators caused riots in the capital against the new emperor Basiliscus succeeded also in convincing Illus, Trocundes and the German general Theodoric Strabo to join the plot.

In January of 475 Zeno was forced to flee Constantinople to Isauria with his wife and mother, some loyal servants, and the imperial treasure. Illus and Trocundes were sent to chase him, and Zeno was compelled to hide himself in a fortress, where Illus besieged him, capturing Zeno's brother, Longinus, and keeping him as an hostage.

However, the conspirators quickly fell in contrast with each other. Basiliscus took the throne for himself, putting to death Verina's lover and candidate, Patricius. He also allowed the citizens to kill all of the Isaurians left in Constantinople, an episode that damaged his bond to the Isaurian generals Illus and Trocundes. Basiliscus also appointed his nephew Armatus magister militum, thus alienating Theodoric Strabo. Since Zeno had left no money, Basiliscus was forced to levy heavy taxes on the people. Finally, he alienated the Church, supporting the Monophysites. The population of Constantinople also put the blame on him for a great fire that burned several parts of the city. With the secret support of the Senate, and with the help of the bribes paid by Zeno, Illus accepted to switch sides and united his army with Zeno's, marching on Costantinople. Basiliscus tried to recover popular support and sent another army against Zeno, under his nephew Armatus' command. Zeno succeeded in bribing Armatus too, promising to confirm his rank of magister militum praesentalis for life and promoting his son to the rank of deputy emperor Armatus' army did not intercept Zeno's troops marching on Constantinople, and the lack of Theodoric Strabo and his army decided the fate of Basiliscus, who fled with his family in the church of Hagia Sophia.

In August 476, Zeno besieged Constantinople. The Eastern Senate opened the gates of the city to the Isaurian, allowing the deposed emperor to resume the throne. Basiliscus fled to sanctuary in a church, but he was betrayed by the Patriarch Acacius and surrendered himself and his family after extracting a solemn promise from Zeno not to shed their blood. Basiliscus and his family were sent to a fortress in Cappadocia, where Zeno had them enclosed in a dry cistern, to die from exposure.

After his restoration, Zeno fulfilled his promises, letting Armatus keep his title of magister militum praesentalis (possibly even raising him to the rank of Patricius) and appointing his son in Nicaea. Upon his return to the throne, Zeno was congratulated by the official Western Roman emperor, Julius Nepos, who was in good terms with Zeno, and he even minted coins in the names of Zeno, Leo II and himself. Julius was a citizen of the Eastern Roman Empire by birth, but the powerful Constantinople had been previously appointing the Western Emperors for the last few years.

On August 475, during Basiliscus' reign, while Zeno was in Isauria, Julius Nepos had been overthrown by his own Patricius Orestes and forced to flee in Dalmatia Orestes elevated to the throne his own son, Romulus Augustus. One year later, while Zeno was entering in Constantinople to end Basiliscus' reign, Romulus faced rebellion by the Chieftain of the German tribe Heruli, Odoacer.

Odoacer quickly advanced to the Western Roman city of Ravenna, where the emperor was, arriving before the gates with a great Barbarian army. Romulus, hopelessly outnumbered by the Germanic forces, turned to his advisers, who suggested that he offer Odoacer co-emperorship in exchange for lifting the siege. Odoacer ultimately accepted the position and became the effective leader of the Western Roman Empire for the brief period.

Death

Around this point, a power struggle broke out in Constantinople which kept the Eastern Empire from interfering with affairs in the West. A conspiracy hatched by a Thracian commander attempted to oust Zeno, who gathered together loyal supporters and and the local militia, crushing the rebel forces and massacring 5,000 of them. Upon suppressing the rebellion, Zeno received an envoy from the Senate in Rome, informing him that Odoacer had seized power. At the same time Zeno received another embassy, sent by Julius Nepos (who still ruled a small portion of the empire in Dalmatia), asking Zeno to give him the money and the army he needed to take back his throne. Zeno answered the Roman Senate to welcome back Julius Nepos, their rightful Emperor he also said that Odoacer and Romulus should receive the patriciate by Julius Nepos, and that he would be glad to grant it unless Nepos granted it first.

The request was refused outright. Odoacer was reminded that Julius Nepos challenged his claim to the throne, thus in 477 he marched a combined Roman-Barbarian army out towards Dalmatia to attack Nepos. Nepos fled into the borders of the Greece, begging Zeno to come to his aid. Realizing the potential danger, Zeno marched an army of his best cohorts from Constantinople to the Balkans. He regrouped with Julius Nepos, and they set out for Rome.

While Odoacer took his time, Zeno and Nepos made a forced march by their troops into Italy. The Eastern and Western Roman armies met near Mediolanum, where Odoacer was confident he could win in a pitched battle. The heavily-armored Eastern horsemen used by Zeno quickly decimated Odoacer's light cavalry, but were destroyed by the Western legions. The Eastern Empire brought forth its second line of battle, led by Zeno himself. The troops clashed, and the Eastern legions began to prevail. However, the day was lost when Zeno was struck by a Barbarian's sword, which pierced his plumed helmet and mortally wounded him. The Western forces pressed forward, and the Eastern legions were quickly broken.

Julius Nepos quickly took command of Zeno's army and ordered a gallant cavalry charge which resulted in the death of Odoacer and many of his other Barbarian horsemen. However, an arrow struck Nepos between the curves of his breastplate and claimed his own life, causing his men to panic upon losing both generals. In the heat of the battle, Romulus himself got directly involved in the fighting and, despite his small size and young age, managed to survive. At this point his Germanic legions heralded him as a true warrior worthy of ruling, leading to him receiving direct control over his army, instead of controlling them through a proxy. The Eastern army was completely routed, and Romulus prevailed.

Zeno had died in March 477, after ruling for 3 years and 2 months. No sons were to succeed him: Leo had died in 474, Zenon, the first son, had died in his youth, while living at court. Ariadne then chose a favoured member of the imperial court, Anastasius, to succeed Zeno, whose brother Longinus revolted, starting the Isaurian War that would throw the Eastern Roman Empire into chaos for years to come.

With the death of Odoacer bringing a free hand in the west and control over the Barbarians within Romulus Augustus's borders, the death of Nepos bringing him legitimacy and the death of Zeno bringing him new found influence even in the distant eastern empire, the boy-emperor began working to re-consolidate Roman authority in the west. As a result of this initiative, instead of overstretching himself through trying to claim the Eastern Empire, Romulus simply threw his support behind Armatus, Zeno's deputy emperor, in exchange for monetary support from Constantinople and the permanent transfer of numerous legions to Romulus' control. Due to the newly weakened state of the East and the overestimation of Romulus' military power, this deal was accepted, and the Eastern Empire further weakened as a large number of its forces and a massive chunk of its treasury went to the West to rebuild Rome.

It wasn't until 478 that Armatus would rightfully assume his throne and defeat his two imperial rivals in Asia Minor, Anastasius and Longinus.


A Roman Game of Thrones

Much like my previous literary outing on Constantius II, the seed of this work was planted during my PhD research on ‘Late Roman Recruiting Practices’. The section of my thesis which involved Zeno involved the military domination of Aspar, the increasing use and growing threat of the foederati and the Machiavellian paradigm of Roman recruiting in playing opponents off against one another. The prolonged preoccupation of Leo I and then Zeno with the Goths and Isaurians may have seen these ‘barbarian’ groups become too much of a crutch for the eastern military of the late fifth century, perhaps displayed by the necessity of significant military reform under Anastasius after the migration of the Goths in 488 and the revolt of the Isaurians in 491. The very fact that Zeno, a supposedly ‘semi-barbarian’ Isaurian, was able to become Augustus in the first place would also seem to present proof of the continued ability of the Roman Empire to integrate and Romanize foreigners despite the trials and tribulations it had faced through the fourth and fifth centuries.

Despite the intricate politicking surrounding Zeno, his seventeen-year reign is frequently reduced to the briefest of mentions as the emperor who was on the throne in Constantinople when the Western Roman Empire was consigned to the dustbin of history in 476. Indeed, the fifth-century eastern empire in general gets something of a limited press in favour of the collapse of the West, the domination of Attila the Hun and the Justinianic revanche of the 530s. This largely reflected the paucity of the sources and in particular the lack of a surviving secular historian between Ammianus Marcellinus and Procopius of Caesarea however, as will be seen, there is plenty of information about the fifth century and Zeno. The accelerating growth of Late Antiquity as a subject all its own beyond Constantine, Theodosius and Justinian has seen areas such as the fifth century receive increasing attention. Some modern historians have found the reigns of Leo and Zeno to be particularly fruitful in terms of articles due to the lack of in-depth research on various aspects of the period, and there has been work focusing largely on aspects of Zeno’s reign. To my knowledge though, there has yet to be an extended look at Zeno’s entire life and reign in English, so a significant part of the inspiration for this book stems from wanting to help fill that gap.

There were other reasons for focusing on Zeno. Not only is there a personal interest in the emperor on the throne when the West fell, but Zeno was also one of the few Roman emperors to be forcibly removed from the throne only to regain it. His very (adopted) name, while recognisably Greek, has a strange, almost other-worldly feel to it in the English-speaking world (Zen’ō does literally mean ‘King of All’ in Japanese). Perhaps it is the unfamiliar ‘Z’ in the name of a Roman emperor that seems a little more exotic? While it was not in the forefront of my mind when I proposed Zeno as the subject of a book, it became impossible to ignore that at least on a subconscious level I had been drawn to this era through my interest in G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and the immense popularity of its TV adaptation, A Game of Thrones. The similarities between the affairs of the empires ruled from Constantinople and King’s Landing can be striking: multiple parties vying for control of the throne, political manipulation, military manoeuvrings, family in-fighting, regional conflict, usurpation and monarchs in exile, religious strife, repeated betrayals and broken alliances, all on a background of the barbarian ‘other’ lingering at the fringes.

It is this intriguing Constantinopolitan game of thrones which has been frequently bypassed by many of the more general histories of the period. During the earliest days of Zeno’s reign, there were anywhere up to eight factions vying for power and influence: Zeno, Verina, Basiliscus, Illus, Armatus, the Senate, imperial courtiers and the Roman army. And this does not take into account other factions within factions and other parties with vested interests, competing for imperial attention or looking to take advantage of infighting: Theoderic Strabo, Theoderic the Amal, Odoacer, what was left of the western government, individual provinces, governors, local commanders, the Persians, Armenians and Caucasians in the East, Samaritan rebels, various barbarian tribes along the Danube, barbarian kingdoms like the Vandals, various religious groups and individuals, and the odd usurper thrown in for good measure. This book will be the story of how Zeno attained a position amongst such players, came to sit on the imperial throne (twice) and then largely overcame most of these problems.

Unfortunately, despite the fifth century seeing persistent warfare across the Mediterranean world and beyond, the lack of depth in the sources leaves extremely slim pickings when it comes to the intricate description of battlefield manoeuvres and none from the reign of Zeno. Perhaps the only battle to involve Roman forces in the fifth century where it is capable of reconstructing a battle map of any detail is the checking of Attila by Aetius’ coalition in the Catalaunian Fields in 451, which does not feature in the pages that follow. The only battle able to appear in battle map format took place in the same year as Attila’s check and did not involve Roman forces – the Battle of Avarayr between the Persians and the Armenians.

Sticking to a military-political approach to Zeno would miss out a significant part of the story and overlook the main reason for his terrible reputation in much of the surviving source material - his religious policies. In just over a century and a half since the Roman Empire had become ruled by Christians, several emperors – Constantius II, Valens and even the great Constantine – had fallen foul of religious figures due to their supposed heterodox beliefs and policies. Zeno was far less confrontational than some of his predecessors, hoping to achieve compromise at times of political turmoil, but it would all be for nought as his reputation became tied up with the reception of that compromise, which was to turn sour after his death.

Many of these political, military and religious aspects of Zeno’s reign intertwine, so while the layout of this work will largely follow a chronological progression, there will also be significant thematic and geographical elements – there is an extended chapter on Zeno’s religious policies, while his interactions with the western empire and the eastern frontier are congregated in two separate chapters despite involving extended periods of time. This in itself requires some occasional overlapping and retreading of information, but hopefully it will not become unnecessarily repetitive. Given word limit constraints and the need to keep this piece accessible to most readers, some areas have been set aside for another day. An inspection of those recorded serving under Zeno at court, in political office and in the military could have shone some light on his ability to put the right men in the right place. A look at the limited entries attributed to Zeno in the Codex Iustinianus could have provided more on the social, economic, military and religious problems the empire faced between 474 and 491.

Hopefully, I have struck the right ‘academically researched for popular consumption’ balance with the narrative and analysis providing a good look at the Roman ‘Game of Thrones’ which took place around Flavius Zeno Augustus in the second half of the fifth century.

Sources

For the life and reign of Zeno, the student of history is confronted with the lack of a complete secular historian. Modern compilations such as the Prosopography of the Late Roman Empire do show that there is plenty of information out there for late antiquity, but it requires manoeuvring through a quagmire of fragmentary works, unreliable narratives, religious pieces and later historians of varied standard importance, usefulness and bias. It would take a full book alone to catalogue and describe all of the primary material consulted herein, but some of the more prominent sources require elucidation.

It would be hyperbole to say that there are as many fragmentary historians as there are fragments, but there are certainly considerable numbers of both. Despite their state, some provide extremely useful information about the mid/late fifth century. Perhaps the most famous is Priscus of Panium, whose eight-volume classicizing history likely covered the period between the accessions of Attila the Hun and Zeno (c.433–474). A well-used source by other writers, Priscus’ fragments prove invaluable on Attila, his court and its relations with the empire. The ‘Byzantiaka’ of Malchus of Philadelphia, a sophist in Constantinople, seems to have covered the reign of Constantine I to that of Anastasius however, its fragments only cover 474–480. He was praised for his concise style and composition, although he was ‘patently hostile to Zeno and the Isaurians’.¹

A native of Isauria, Candidus was likely a secretary to a leading Isaurian, perhaps a comites Isauriae, Illus or a rebel against Anastasius.² His history encompassed the reigns of Leo I and Zeno, but only survives heavily epitomized in the Bibliotheca of Photius, who considered Candidus’ style unpleasant. It is probable that Candidus was ‘writing in the distinctly anti-Isaurian climate after Zeno’s death in 491 … [and that] the whole thrust of his history was a riposte to … Malchus’.³ Candidus was not the only Isaurian writer several other histories - by Capito, Christodorus and Pamprenius – were written ‘to champion their importance and prestige’.⁴ The anonymous Life of Conon in particular aims to portray Isauria’s barbarian, bandit and pagan past being tamed and civilized by members of Isaurian society, setting itself up as a reply to the negative portrayal of the Miracles of Paul and Thecla.⁵

More well-known as the historian of the reign of Justinian, Procopius of Caesarea provides relevant background information for the mid-sixth century wars with Persia, Vandals and Goths, and ‘views Zeno’s reign with objectivity and perspective’.⁶ His panegyric On Buildings recounts the history of the building of the Church of Mount Gerizim by Zeno, which provides information on the Samaritan revolt.⁷ Another useful sixth-century historian is Jordanes, a notarius in Constantinople of Gothic origin, who composed two histories, Romana and Getica. These were heavily influenced by the Gothic and Roman worlds their author inhabited, and highlighted the interactions between the Goths and Romans, something which was particularly useful for Zeno’s reign given his involvement with two Gothic groups. The disputed relationship between Jordanes’ Getica and that of Cassiodorus demonstrates potential bias in favour of Theoderic the Amal over Zeno.⁸ Another Constantinopolitan official to write a history was the Illyrian Marcellinus Comes. His Annales covered 379–534, with an anonymous continuator adding further information down to 566. Although his work is in Latin and used western sources like Orosius and Gennadius, he was primarily interested in events at Constantinople, with his position giving him access to public records.⁹

The Chronicle of John Malalas, an Antiochene bureaucrat serving in Constantinople, not only provides useful (and problematic) information about Zeno’s reign, it may also present an example of the potential alteration in tone and opinion that can come with the change in an author’s personal thoughts, their surrounding and their sources. When writing about the mid/late fifth century, Malalas appears anti-Chalcedonian, but by the end of his work in 565, he is showing support for Chalcedon.¹⁰ ‘Named for the methods it presents for calculating the date of Easter’,¹¹ the anonymous Chronicon Paschale of the 630s writes about the fifth century as well, although its use of Malalas as a source decreases its value.¹² The same can be said for the seventh-century Historia Chronike of John of Antioch, which imitates much of Malalas, as well as the likes of Eusebius and Ammianus Marcellinus.

Malalas was also the original source for a significant part of the Syriac tradition. Born in Amida and studying at the Zuqnin monastery, John of Ephesus undertook missionary work amongst the remaining pagans in Asia Minor, before becoming the non-Chalcedonian bishop of Ephesus. The second book of his Ecclesiastical History incorporated the reign of Zeno, but it only survives in fragments within the Zuqnin Chronicle.¹³ This was a Syriac compilation of four separate works which follows Eusebius, Socrates and John of Ephesus before the final section provided a more personal account of the Middle East after the Muslim conquests. The third part provides some information on Zeno, although its exact authorship is unclear. It was originally identified as the work of Dionysius of Tel Mahre, a late eighth-century Syrian, but this was rejected in favour of an anonymous monk from Zuqnin or a certain Joshua the Stylite. This section of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite focused on the Anastasian War of 502–506, but included a synopsis of Romano-Persian relations from the death of Julian in 363 and accounts of the Persian kings Peroz I, Balash and Kavadh I.¹⁴

Written around the same time as the Pseudo-Joshua, Theodore Lector’s Church History was divided into three parts, the third section of four books with Book III looking at the reign of Zeno. His work does not survive in full but it was used by various later historians, who preserved some useful fragments. Lector was a firm Chalcedonian, willing to ‘glorify in his work the ardent defenders of the Council’¹⁵ and criticise its opponents. Theodore also ridiculed those who attempted to maintain the unity of the Church through negotiation, including Acacius and Zeno, although he did not paint them as heretics as others did. Instead, he ‘reproached them for their willingness to make dogmatic concessions and inclination to negotiate with the heretics’.¹⁶

The Ecclesiastical History of Zacharias Rhetor was written in the 490s during the reign of Anastasius. While his anti-Chalcedonianism is clear and he was not above distorting material for his own ends,¹⁷ Zacharias did not allow his approach to blind him completely. He demonstrated some support for Zeno and the Henotikon as an attempt to maintain Church unity. Zacharias’ history is only extant as volumes III–VI of the mid-sixth century work of a Pseudo-Zacharias. This anonymous writer was a monk in Amida and used the library of the anti-Chalcedonian bishop, Mara.¹⁸ The extent to which the anonymous monk preserved the work of Zacharias is not known. Maybe he translated Rhetor’s Greek to Syriac or merely compiled already translated works however, other Greek passages from Zacharias’ history preserved elsewhere suggest that the Pseudo-Zacharias did not translate/copy Rhetor’s work verbatim.¹⁹

In an ironic twist, the only reason some original Greek of Zacharias survives is because the Chalcedonian historian, Evagrius Scholasticus, used his history as a source for Zeno’s reign. A survivor of the Justinianic Plague, Evagrius was a sixth-century lawyer and government official from Antioch. Like Zacharias, he was no radical and looked favourably on Zeno’s attempts at unity through the Henotikon, although he focuses more blame for disruption on John Talaia and Peter Mongus than Acacius. While Evagrius wrote several theological works, only his six-volume Ecclesiastical History from the first Council of Ephesus in 431 to his own time in 593 survives. While he focused heavily on his home city and religious affairs, Evagrius does also address secular events.²⁰

Zacharias’ works were not just limited to ecclesiastical history. While pursuing a legal career in Constantinople, he wrote hagiographies of the anti-Chalcedonian Peter the Iberian, Isaiah and Severus of Antioch. These works provide an ‘apologetic representation’²¹ of their subjects and appear to have been written to defend them from supposed connections to paganism and Illus during his revolt against Zeno, a perspective put forward by the Philosophical History of Damascius.²² Even with troubles over authorship and compilation, these hagiographies provide useful information about the continued struggles between Christians and pagans, and Christological doctrines during the reign of Zeno and the impact they could have on the political situation regarding the revolt of Illus.²³

Another hagiography of Peter the Iberian was written by John Rufus, an Arabian monk ordained by Peter the Fuller during the reign of Basiliscus, who also compiled the Plerophoriae, a collection of traditions and anecdotes about prominent anti-Chalcedonians. A radical opponent of Chalcedon, Rufus intentionally ignored virtually all attempts at compromise, including the Henotikon.²⁴ An alternative view of the religious tensions in Palestine under Zeno is provided by the hagiographies of Cyril of Scythopolis on John the Hesychast, Euthymius and Saba.²⁵

The most prominent hagiography of the late fifth century is the anonymous Life of Daniel the Stylite, who stood atop a pillar just north of Constantinople for thirty-three years and provided advice to Leo I and Zeno. The life was written by a disciple of the saint between 494 and 496, and due to ‘his excellent knowledge of court rumours and intrigues’²⁶ he may have had some connection to the imperial court. Unlike many of the other religious sources, Daniel’s views on Christology are not completely clear. His criticism of Basiliscus might suggest a dislike of anti-Chalcedonianism and several pro-Chalcedonians, Zeno included, do receive a positive reception, although his approval may reflect the author’s and possibly Daniel’s positive view of their efforts to unite the church rather than their Christologies.²⁷

These eastern sources do not provide the only viewpoints on the Christological controversies. The Church of Rome had its own position to ponder with regards to Chalcedon, the Acacian Schism and Zeno’s attempts to unite the Church. The Gesta de nomine Acacii, which is attributed to Pope Gelasius (492–496), although it may instead belong to the pontificate of Felix III (483–492), summarises the Roman view of the controversies surrounding the deposition of Acacius in 485.²⁸ There is also a cadre of African writers who provide some insight into the reign of Zeno, religious politics and relations between Constantinople and the Vandals. Victor of Vita is something of a mystery, aside from being from Vita and serving as a clergyman in Carthage during the reign of Huneric (477–484). Given that his aim was to drum up support for the Catholic Church in Africa, Victor’s work includes dramatic flair and exaggeration of Arian Vandal persecution.²⁹

Another western pro-Chalcedonian, Liberatus, archdeacon of Carthage, wrote a chronicle in the mid-sixth century. Due to his exile as part of the ‘Three Chapters’ controversy, he was able to make use of the Gesta, Roman synodal documents and a variety of other Latin and Greek sources. Virtually no eastern individual receives a positive treatment from Liberatus aside from Leo I due to his consultations with the episcopate.³⁰ Another African caught up in the ‘Three Chapters’ controversy was Victor of Tunnuna. Despite being a Latin-speaking African bishop, Victor ‘spent a good deal of his later life in Constantinople’.³¹ This proved something of a double-edged sword. As an historian, it gave Victor access to information and sources he would not have had otherwise however, personally, it proved a problem due to his beliefs, leading to various periods of internment and exile. His Chronicle of 444–567 was largely focused on the occupants of the major metropolitan sees, but does provide plenty on ecclesiastic politics within Constantinople.³²

Even as the centuries progressed, due to the Henotikon, Zeno remained an attraction for historians. Aside from his name and his being the bishop of the Egyptian city of Nikiu in the late seventh century, little is known about John of Nikiu. It is not even certain what language he wrote in, Greek or Coptic, as his chronicle only survived through an Ethiopian translation of an Arabic translation. John was generally positive about Zeno, although given the hijacking of the Henotikon by Anastasius, this does not demonstrate whether Nikiu was pro-or anti-Chalcedonian.³³

The Macedonian dynasty of the ninth/tenth century proved particularly important for the preservation of information on the reign of Zeno. Theophanes the Confessor, an eighth/ninth-century Constantinopolitan aristocrat-turned-monk, wrote a Chronographia of the period 285–813. His information is occasionally suspect and his sources are disputed, but he did use Theodore Lector for much of Zeno’s reign, incorporating ‘multiple additions which make the original Theodore’s account more sharp , giving more negative evaluations of both Akakius and Zeno’.³⁴ Another to use Theodore, along with Cyril of Scythopolis, was the ninth/tenth-century anonymous Synodicon Vetus, which focused on synods.³⁵

Twice patriarch of Constantinople (858–867, 877–886), Photius was a prolific writer his most important work being the Bibliotheca. This was a collection of extracts and abridgements of 280 classical works, many of which would otherwise be lost, including Candidus and Malchus. Another compilation to preserve otherwise lost material was the tenth-century encyclopaedic Greek lexicon of 30,000 entries called the Suda.³⁶ The tenth-century emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus saw to the creation of the Excerpta Historica, a collection of extracts from ancient historians, including sections of John of Antioch, and the De Caermoniis, which provides official records of the coronations of fifth-century emperors.

The tenth-century Melkite Church provides two authors who wrote in Arabic: Eutychius, Patriarch of Alexandria, and Agapius, bishop of Syrian Hierapolis. A celebrated doctor, Eutychius wrote a world history to his own time. It has not come down to modern times in its complete form, with details from Zeno’s reign lost or removed by a later revisionist. What can be discerned is that Eutychius was a fervent Chalcedonian and he allowed that to colour his opinion of Zeno, calling the emperor a ‘Miaphysite’ in another instance of an ill-defined, negative and incorrect use of such a term.³⁷ The Kitab al–Unwan of Agapius used Greek and Syriac sources that do not survive in full, meaning that while his own history has many missing pieces, it remains a useful historical source for the late Roman Empire.³⁸ Another Arabic history, the Kitab al–Tarikh of Abu l-Fath, preserves a Samaritan perspective of the fifth century, although it is of ‘questionable historical value and often incompatible with sources of late Antiquity’.³⁹

Michael the Syrian, twelfth-century Patriarch of the Jacobite Church, was a prolific writer of various genres – canonical, theological, liturgical, historical. His twenty-one book history used at least 150 different sources, with John of Ephesus, Zacharias Rhetor and Jacob of Edessa primarily used for Zeno.⁴⁰ A century later, another prominent Jacobite bishop, Gregory Bar Hebraeus, was another prolific Syriac writer. He produced a combined world and church history, which focused on the Near East, giving information about a part of the empire that was largely ignored by the sources for the reign of Zeno.⁴¹ The later ‘Byzantine’ period also provided useful compendiums of early sources. The eleventh-century John Zonaras probably relied heavily on John of Antioch for Zeno’s reign the late eleventh/early twelfth-century Compendium Historiarum of Kedrenus used Pseudo-Symeon, Theophanes, George the Monk and the Chronicon Paschale and the fourteenth-century Nikephoros Kallistos, whose Church History drew upon Theodore Lector, Evagrius and Theophanes and portrayed Zeno in a poor light.⁴²

Contemporary material is also preserved in the letters of many prominent church individuals – popes, patriarchs and bishops – between themselves, and with the emperor and other clergy and monks. Popes Simplicius and Felix III corresponded with Acacius, Basiliscus and Zeno.⁴³ Severus of Antioch wrote nearly 4,000 letters, of which about 300 have survived, while the letters of Philoxenos of Mabbug provide useful information about the Antiochene patriarchate during the 470s and 480s.⁴⁴ Care over the provenance of such letters must be taken, as certain groups were not above perpetuating forgeries. The majority of Acacius’ letters to Peter Mongus may be later creations to portray the former as an ardent anti-Chalcedonian to bolster Mongus’ reputation, as Acacius had remained in communion with him.⁴⁵ The monks of the Akoimetoi monastery near Constantinople created a collection of ten letters to Peter the Fuller supposedly from Felix, Acacius and other bishops regarding the Trisagion hymn of the Divine Liturgy.⁴⁶

The legal sources are not particularly bountiful for the late fifth century, languishing in the gap between the Codex Theodosianus of 438 and the Codex Iustinianus in 534. The latter incorporates about fifty to sixty laws of Leo, Zeno and Anastasius, ‘a very small proportion of the legislation of these emperors’.⁴⁷ Most of these laws are heavily truncated, with their introductory information removed, limiting the understanding of their circumstances. It is also difficult to ascertain how widespread the implementation of these laws was meant to be. Laws promulgated in Constantinople might not have had much bearing on the rest of the empire and may never have meant to.⁴⁸

Numismatics can also provide useful information about the state of the empire at a particular time and place. The circulation of coins can imply how well the Roman economy was operating, while a large amount of coins in a particular area is a good indication of a strong imperial presence at a particular time. Most importantly for a time of political disruption and usurpation, coins can demonstrate who held power at certain times, as well as the outward appearance presented by the imperial court. In the instance of Zeno, coins show his inferior position to his son, Leo II, his deposition by Basiliscus and his brief acceptance of Leo Basiliscus as Caesar. The Roman Imperial Coinage remains the most useful collection for Roman numismatics, with Volume X by J.P.C. Kent (1994) focusing on The Divided Empire, 395–491.⁴⁹ Archaeology can also provide information about various events and their settings, whether it be the layout of Constantinople, the fortifications of Isauria or the damage done to various Balkan cities by Gothic and Hunnic forces. It can also highlight Zeno’s building programme in various regions and cities however, unless there are accompanying literary sources, it is difficult to ascertain when certain edifices were constructed, who was behind their establishment and what their context was.⁵⁰

The extensive footnotes and bibliography demonstrate the sheer number of historians and works which have been consulted in the preparation of this work, but it would be remiss of me to not mention three which I have found particularly useful. The various articles of Brian Croke have been particularly useful in unravelling many of the embedded assumptions about Zeno, the imperial family and court in the second half of the fifth century. There are the eminently readable works of Peter Heather on the late empire, barbarians, Goths and Theoderic the Amal. Finally, Rafal Kosinski’s 2010 monograph, The Emperor Zeno: Religion and Politics, proved invaluable for Zeno’s religious policies. It provided a tremendous amount of information not just from Dr Kosinski himself but also a vast array of secondary material which may otherwise have eluded me. While purchased new, the fact that my copy is no longer in the best shape is testament to the amount of use I have gotten out of it.

From this wide range of sources, the image they provide of Zeno is largely negative. This would not be entirely surprising, as plenty of Roman emperors have deserved a poor reputation through their actions and intentions however, it appears that ‘quite often the sources … do less than justice to Zeno’.⁵¹ Of particular consequence is that many of the writers appear to have used the same material. Therefore, what might seem like a ubiquitous depiction, backed up by multiple sources of diverse origin, period, viewpoint and genre, can be traced to perhaps a single individual who had an interest in depicting Zeno harshly either through intentional deception or mistaken interpretation. It will be part of the brief of this work to dig through any such injustice done to the emperor Zeno in his depiction by the primary sources.

Spelling Conventions

Given the various languages that sources for the fifth century were written in – Latin, Greek, Armenian, Syriac and Arabic – it becomes important for the sake of clarity to establish spelling conventions. As I freely admit to having only the most fleeting knowledge of some of these languages, I have endeavoured to maintain consistency, rather than apply any sort of linguistic principle. Hopefully, this does not create any difficulty in the identification of an individual or place.

More prominent Anglicized versions of personal names will be used over Latin or Greek, so we will be in the realms of Zeno, Leo and Theoderic rather than Zenon, Leon and Theodericus. The eastern neighbours of Rome present a slightly trickier problem as the same name can have many different spellings. The limited political and military interaction with the Persians, Armenians and other Caucasians during the reign of Zeno condenses much of the interface with such names to a single chapter. That said, there can be some considerable differences in spelling of the same name in the Graeco-Latin-Germanic (with Hunnic thrown in for good measure) world of Europe as well. The most extreme example from this work’s dramatis personae is that of the man who deposed the last western Roman emperor and ruled as rex Italiae. In the sources, there are at least eight different versions of his name recorded: Odoacer, Odoacar, Odovacar, Odovacris, Odovacrius, Adovacris, Oδoαxoς and Oδoαkpcς. It is unsurprising then that there is no firm conclusion on where his name originates from. As will be seen, I have used ‘Odoacer’.

As for cities and regions, the Anglicized ancient name of an existing town, city or region prevails in the text, such as Constantinople over Istanbul, Antioch over Antakya or Gaul over France. Roman era provincial names will also be used over modern equivalents, although on many occasions a lesser-known place name will be accompanied by its more modern equivalent or a more famous nearby location to aid in its identification. As for the empire as a whole, while some trace the beginning of the ‘Byzantine Empire’ to the refounding of Constantinople by Constantine in 330, I am of the opinion that the empire based on that new imperial capital and the eastern provinces remained recognizably the Roman Empire for at least another three centuries after that time, if not all the way to 1453.


Watch the video: Emperor Zeno: The Saviour of the Byzantine Empire


Comments:

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