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Byzantine Empire (9th – 13th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

History of the Byzantine Empire in the first half of the 9th century was marked by an inner crisis. Empress Irene was overthrown in 802 and replaced by the minister of finance Nikephoros I Logothetes (802-811) who was primarily concentrated on financial and military reorganization. The Byzantine Empire was at the time threatened by the rising power of the Bulgarians and the initial Byzantine success against the Bulgarian Khan Krum was followed by a disastrous defeat in the Battle of Pliska in 811. Nikephoros was killed in the battle and was succeeded by his son Staurakios who was overthrown in 812.

Staurakios was succeeded by his brother-in-law Michael I Rangabe (811-813) who recognized Charlemagne as basileus (emperor) probably due to the Bulgarian threat. Michael I Rangabe decided to deal with the Bulgarians but his army was severely defeated at Versinikia near Adrianople in 813. Michael I was deposed and replaced by Armenian general Leo V (813-820). Like his predecessor, Leo V had to deal with the Bulgarian threat but he reached a peace agreement with Krum’s successor Omurtag in 814. Leo V afterwards concentrated on inner politics and renewed Iconoclasm in 815 but he had less support than his iconoclastic predecessors in the 8th century. He was assassinated and replaced by Michael II the Amorian (820-829) in 820.

The reign of Michael II the Amorian was marked by the rebellion of Thomas the Slav in Asia Minor in 821 which resulted in the outbreak of a civil war. Michael II the Amorian managed to repulse Thomas’ siege of Constantinople but the civil war that lasted until 823 greatly weakened the Byzantine Empire which could not prevent the Arab conquest of Crete. The Arab threat continued during the reign of Michael’s son and successor Theophilos (829-842) whose reign was characterized by restitution of Iconoclasm. The movement against the worship of images finally ended after his death in 842.

Theophilos was succeeded by his son Michael III (842-867). His mother Empress Theodora acted as his regent during his minority but the government was eventually assumed by the secretary of state (logothete) Theoktistos Vriennion. Michael III overthrew the regency in 856 but his reign was strongly influenced by his uncle Bardas. The latter played a major role in the rebirth of Byzantine culture and political power, and supported the missions of Saint Cyril and Methodius to the Slavs. Bardas was assassinated by Michael’s favorite Basil of Macedonia in 866. Michael III made Basil a co-emperor but the latter ordered Michael’s assassination in 867, assumed the Byzantine throne as Basil I (867-886) and founded the Macedonian dynasty.

Illumination of Emperor Basil I and his son the future Leo VI

Basil I and his son Leo VI

The Byzantine Empire consolidated its power during the Basil’s reign. He launched several military campaigns which resulted in the recapture of Southern Italy and strengthened the Byzantine eastern frontier. Basil I died on a hunting accident in 886 and was succeeded by his son Leo VI the Wise (886-912). He completed and issued the Basiica, a Greek translation and update of the law code of Justinian I which centralized the government and strengthened the imperial authority in the first year of his reign. Leo VI was not as successful as his father in foreign politics. He provoked a war with Simeon I of Bulgaria which resulted in the Byzantine defeat in the Battle of Bulgarophygon in 896, while his war against Bulgaria enabled the Arabs to invade the Byzantine territory and to capture Sicily in 902 and Thessaloniki in 907. Constantinople was attacked by the Kievan Rus but Leo VI managed to repulse the Kievan threat through negotiations and favorable political-commercial treaty.

The Byzantine Empire fell into an inner crisis which caused by the conflicts over the throne after Leo’s death in 912. The Byzantine throne was assumed by Leo’s brother Alexander (912-913) who renewed the conflict with Simeon I of Bulgaria by refusing to pay tribute. He died only after one year after accession to the Byzantine throne and was succeeded by a minor son of Leo VI, Constantine VII (913-920 and 945-959) and Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos as his regent. Advance of the Bulgarian forces forced the Patriarch to recognize Simeon I as Bulgarian Emperor and to accept marriage between Constantine VII and one of Simeon’s daughters. However, Nicholas was driven out of regency and Empress Zoe revoked all Nicholas’ concessions to Simeon I. The latter invaded Thrace and marched towards Corinth in 918. At the same time came to power admiral Romanos Lekapenos who arranged the marriage between Constantine VII and his daughter Helena in 919. He bacame basileopator (emperor-father) but crowned himself co-emperor one year later. The Bulgarians failed to capture Constantinople in 920, while the Bulgarian threat finally ceased after Simeon’s death in 927. The Byzantines afterwards concentrated on campaigns against the Arabs and extended the Byzantine borders far to the east.

Romanos’ sons Stephen and Constantine who feared that he will be succeeded by Constantine VII overthrew their father in 944. However, Constantine VII removed his brothers-in-law in 945 and reigned as sole emperor until his death in 959. He was succeeded by his son Romanos II (959-963) whose short reign is notable for his successful military campaigns. General Nikephoros Phokas captured Crete in 961, decisively defeated the Arabs at Saif ed-Daula and conquered Aleppo one year later. Romanos II died suddenly in 963 and the imperial title was won by general Nikephoros Phokas through marriage with Romanos’ widow Theophanu. However, Theophanu conspired against him and Nikephoros was assassinated by John Tzimiskes who assumed the Byzantine throne as John I (969-976).

John I settled the conflicts with Holy Roman Emperor Otto I over the possessions in Southern Italy and married his niece Theophanu with Otto I’s son Otto II in 972. John’s sudden death in 976 was followed by a civil war over his succession which was won by the eldest son of Romanos II, Basil II (979-1025) in 979. The Byzantine Empire under Basil II reached its height. Basil II decisively defeated the Bulgarians and annexed their territory in 1018. He was also successful in Southern Italy and Armenia but his reign is probably best known for increased Byzantine cultural influence in Kievan Rus, the Balkans and Capadocia.

Painting of Basil II

Basil II (the Bulgar-slayer)

The Byzantine Empire began to decline after Basil’s death in 1025. His successors Constantine VIII (1025-1028), Romanos III (1028-1034) and Michael IV (1034-1042) failed to limit the rising power of aristocracy and to prevent decentralization and weakening of state finances. Constantine IX (1042-1055) who tried to secure his position by favoring the nobility was faced with the Pecheneg invasion on the north and increased Norman pressure in Southern Italy, while the Seljuks Turks invaded Syria after the conquest of Baghdad in 1055. In addition, the differences between the Greek and Roman Churches resulted in the Great Schism and their final separation in 1054. The Macedonian dynasty became extinct after the death of Empress Theodora (1055-1056) and was followed by severe conflicts over the Byzantine throne.

Michael IV (1056-1057) who was chosen by Empress Theodora as her successor was forced to step down by Isaac I Komnenos (1057-1059). However, Isaac I soon came into conflict with the court bureaucracy as well as with the clergy and was forced to abdicate in 1059. He was succeeded by Constantine X Doukas (1059-1067) whose reign was characterized by further decline of the Byzantine Empire which suffered severe territorial losses under his son and successor Michael IV Doukas (1071-1078). The Normans under Robert Guiscard advanced in Sicily and Southern Italy, the Hungarians captured Belgrade in 1064, the Pechenegs penetrated into Greece, while Minor Asia was permanently lost after severe defeat of the Byzantine forces by the Seljuk Turks in the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. Foreign difficulties caused dissatisfaction with Michael’s reign and he was forced to abdicate in 1078. The Byzantine throne was assumed by Nikephoros III (1078-1081) but he was deposed in 1081.

A portrait of Manuel I Comnenus

Manuel I Comnenus

Nikephoros III was succeeded by Alexios I Comnenus (Komnenos) (1081-1118) who founded the Komnenid Dynasty. The reign of Alexios I was marked by the First Crusade which was launched on his appeal to Pope Urban II. He managed to recover some of territory in Asia Minor, defeated Bohemund I of Antioch in the Battle of Dyrrhachium in 1107 and repulsed the Norman threat. However, he was faced with a serious rival in the Balkan Peninsula after the establishment of personal union between Hungary and Croatia. His successor John II Comnenus (1118-1143) managed to withstand all the attacks on the Byzantine Empire, defeated the Pechenegs who invaded Thrace and repulsed the Hungarians. He conquered the Principality of Antioch in 1137, transformed it into a vassal state and concluded a defensive alliance with the Holy Roman Empire against the Normans. However, his successor Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180) was not able to pursue his father’s policy. Manuel I came into conflict with the Pope and Louis VII of France after the Second Crusade (1147-1149) and failed to reach an agreement with Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa against Roger II of Sicily. He invaded Southern Italy in 1155 but he was forced to withdraw and cede Southern Italy to William I of Sicily after defeat at Brindisi in 1156. Manuel I achieved success in the Balkans by capturing Dalmatia, Croatia and Bosnia in 1167 and by extending his influence over Hungary and Serbia. However, his successful politics in the Balkans brought him into conflict with Venice which concluded an anti-Byzantine alliance with the Normans. Manuel I allied himself with Genoa (1169) and Pisa (1170) but Venice established itself as a leading sea power in the Mediterranean. He launched a military campaign against the Seljuk Turks in 1176 but the Byzantine forces were severely defeated at Myriocephalon.

Manuel I died in 1180 and was succeeded by Alexios II Comnenus (1180-1183) with his mother Maria of Antioch as his regent. However, Alexios II was forced to recognize Andronikos Comenus (1183-1185) as emperor shortly after his accession to the Byzantine throne. Andronikos’ brutal suppression of his opponents resulted in several revolts and the chaotic situation in the Byzantine Empire was taken advantage by William II of Sicily who invaded the Byzantine territory. Andrikos was deposed by Isaac II Angelos (1185-1195 and 1203-1204) during his absence from Constantinople. The new Byzantine Emperor repulsed the invaders but he was not able to prevent the further disintegration and decline of the Byzantine Empire which also marked the reign of his successor Alexios III Angelos (1195-1203). The Byzantine Empire under Alexios III Angelos lost its political influence in the Balkan Peninsula and Cyprus, while the Fourth Crusade resulted in the partition of the Byzantine Empire in 1204.

Second Bulgarian Empire (12th – 13th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
Ivan Asen I

Ivan Asen I

The rebellion of the brothers Peter and Asen in 1185 renewed the Bulgarian independence from the Byzantine Empire and resulted in the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire under Ivan Asen I. The latter was succeeded by his younger brother Kaloyan (1196-1207) who took advantage of the disintegration of the Byzantine Empire, conquered Macedonia and decisively defeated the Latins in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205.

The Second Bulgarian Empire joined the competition for the Byzantine succession after the fall of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. However, the rise of the Second Bulgarian Empire was hindered by sudden death of Kaloyan before the walls of Thessaloniki in 1207 as well as by the ambitions of local leaders who weakened the central power.

First Bulgarian Empire (9th – 11th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
Boris I

Boris I

The tensions between the Eastern and Western Churches in the 10th century were taken advantage by Boris I of Bulgaria (852-889). He converted into Orthodox Christianity in exchange for a status of an autonomous archbishopric that was granted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. However, Simeon I (893-927) proclaimed the Bulgarian Orthodox Church autocephalous and elevated it to the rank of Patriarchate. Simeon’s act disturbed the Byzantines who persuaded the Magyars from Bessarabia to attack Bulgaria. Simeon I managed to repulse the Magyar invasion and severely defeated the Byzantines in the Battle of Bulgarophygon. Simeon decided to destroy the Magyars in Bessarabia and in alliance with the Pechenegs forced the Magyars to move to the Danube area about 899. Afterwards he concentrated on inner politics but his foreign activities were renewed in 913 when he captured Adrianople and advanced towards Constantinople. His campaign against the Byzantine Empire was halted by Romanus I Lecapenus who managed to save the Byzantine Empire from the total disaster. Simeon I namely proclaimed himself Tsar of Bulgaria and Autocrat of the Romans which clearly revealed his aspirations to the Byzantine throne.

The First Bulgarian Empire reached its territorial peak during the reign of Simeon I. He extended the Bulgarian territory over whole eastern Balkan Peninsula to Adrianople and Thessaloniki, and subdued Raska and Epirus. However, the First Bulgarian Empire began to decline under his successor Peter I (927-969), while Boris II (969-971) lost eastern Bulgaria to the Byzantine Empire and was deposed in 971. The western lands remained independent after the Byzantine conquest of eastern Bulgaria and organized a rebellion against the Byzantine Empire. The rebellion was led by the brothers of the Comitopuli dynasty: David, Moses, Aron and Samuil. The latter concentrated all power in his hands after the death of his brothers but he recognized the brother of Boris II, Roman (977-997) who escaped from the Byzantine captivity in 977 as emperor. Samuil remained the chief commander of the Bulgarian army although he was de facto a co-ruler with Roman. Thus Samuil (977-1014) was proclaimed Emperor of Bulgaria when Roman died childless in 977.

Samuil’s rule was characterized by constant warfare with the Byzantine Empire to preserve independence as well as to extend the borders of his empire. The Byzantine Emperor Basil II (also known as the Bulgar-slayer) defeated the Bulgarian forces in the Battle of Belasitsa in 1014, and ordered 14,000 Bulgarian prisoners to be blinded and sent back to Bulgaria. At the sight of his army Samuil supposedly suffered a heart attack and died two days later. He was succeeded by his son Gavril Radomir (1014-1015) who continued his father’s policy and invaded Byzantine territory reaching to Constantinople. He was murdered by his cousin Ivan Vladislav (1015-1018) who assumed the Bulgarian throne with the Byzantine support.

Ivan Vladislav turned against the Byzantine Empire shortly after his accession to the Bulgarian throne. He was killed during the siege of Durazzo in 1018, while most of the Bulgarian territory was subjugated by the Byzantine Empire by 1018. The First Bulgarian Empire came to an end.

Kingdom of Croatia

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The early history of Medieval Croatian State is mostly unknown. The Frankish sources from the end of the 8th century mention Woinomyrus Sclavus who was according to some scholars a Croatian Duke but the opinions about his origin are greatly divided. History of Medieval Croatian State becomes more clear in the second decade of the 9th century when Prince of Savia, Ljudevit Posavski led a rebellion against the Franks. Croatia was at the time ruled by Prince Borna who joined the Franks against Ljudevit Posavski. The Franks crushed the rebellion in 822, while Ljudevit Posavski escaped in Bosnia and notified the Franks that he was willing to subdue to the emperor. Ljudevit returned to Croatia on the death of Borna in 823 but he was assassinated, probably on Frankish order. The destiny of Slavic principality of Savia afterwards remains unknown but written sources from the end of the 9th century mention Prince Braslav, a loyal German vassal who met with Emperor Arnulf in 892.

Borna’s nephew and heir Vladislav was succeeded by Prince Mislav. More is known about Mislav’s successor Trpimir (c. 845-864) who defeated the Bulgarians and Dalmatian cities and strengthened the Medieval Croatian State. Trpimir was succeeded by Domagoj (c. 864-876) who was not member of the Trpimirovic Dynasty. His reign was marked by increased Byzantine influence and Croatian throne was assumed by Sedeslav/Zdeslav from the Trpimirovic Dynasty with Byzantine help in 878. Sedeslav was succeeded by Branimir (879-892) who turned against the Byzantine Empire and established closer bonds with the Papacy. Branimir reconciled with the Byzantine Empire later, while the Medieval Croatian State developed into an important power on the Adriatic coast.

Branimir was succeeded by Mutimir (892-c.920) of whom very little is known. His successor Tomislav I (c. 910-928) was proclaimed king although is not known when and by whom. However, the Medieval Croatian State fell into inner crisis under Tomislav’s successors Trpimir II, Kresimir I and Miroslav I. A civil war broke out during the reign of Miroslav I (945-949) resulting in rapid switches on the Croatian throne and rise of the local leaders. Raska (Serbia) under Caslav Klonimirovic captured Bosnia, while Stefan Drzislav (d. 997) also felt threatened by Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria. Drzislav joined the Byzantine Emperor Basil II against Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria but his success was short-lasting. Venice stopped paying a tax to the Croatian King for safe sealing in 996, while Drzislav died shortly afterwards.

Drzislav’s death was followed by a war over succession among his three sons Svetoslav, Kresimir III and Gojislav which was taken advantage by the Venetians under Pietro II Orseolo who captured the Croatian lands along the Adriatic Sea. The Croatian crown was eventually assumed by Kresimir III who was forced to subdue to the Byzantine Emperor Basil II who destroyed the Bulgarians under Tsar Samuil. Both Byzantine and Venetian pressure on Kingdom of Croatia (the Byzantine Emperor Basil II died in 1025 and the Orseolo family was expelled from Venice in 1026) ceased in the second decade of the 11th century. However, Kresimir’s successor Stefan I (c. 1030-1058) had to face with the Normans who emerged as an important political force in Southern Italy.

Kingdom of Croatia reached its territorial peak under Kresimir IV (1058-1074). He established his supremacy over Dalmatian cities about 1069 and is titled “rex Dalmatiae atque Croatiae” (king of Dalmatia and Croatia) in all documents which is by some Croatian historians regarded as evidence of Kresimir’s independence from the Byzantine Empire concerning Dalmatia. Kresimir IV was deposed in 1074 and the Croatian throne was assumed by Zvonimir (1075-1089) with the support of Pope Gregory VII. Zvonimir is the first historically proven King of Croatia but little is known about his rule. The majority of the documents is faked and thus Zvonimir’s role in the Byzantine-Norman struggles in the Adriatic remains unknown. He was succeeded by Stjepan II (1089-1091) who was the last King of Croatia of Trpimirovic Dynasty.

Zvonimir’s widow, Jelena who was the sister of Ladislaus I of Hungary refused to recognize Stjepan II as King of Croatia and appealed to the King of Hungary to assume the Croatian throne. The Hungarian attempt failed and king of Croatia became a man named Peter (1092-1097) of whom is known only that he ruled from Knin. However, Ladislaus’ successor Coloman invaded Croatia as soon as he reconciled with the Pope, defeated the Croatian forces in the Battle of Gvozd Mountain in 1097 and killed the last King of Croatia. Coloman was crowned King of Croatia in 1102 and the Kingdom of Croatia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary.

Kingdom of Serbia (10th – 13th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The early history of the Medieval Serbian state is mostly unknown. The Serbs settled in several lands: Rascia/Raska (today’s southern Serbia and northern Montenegro), today’s south-central and southeastern Bosnia, Zachumlie/Zahumlje (today’s western Herzegovina), Trebounia/Travunija (today’s eastern Herzegovina), Pagania/Paganija (today’s middle Dalmatia) and Duklja/Zeta (today’s Montenegro). The process of the establishment of the Medieval Serbian Kingdom in the mentioned lands mostly took place under domination of Raska and Duklja. Zahumlje and Travunija had during that process inferior role, while the territory of today’s south-central and southeastern Bosnia and Paganija developed separately from the beginning of the 12th century onwards.

The first unified Serbian state emerged under Caslav Klonimirovic (c. 930-960) in the first half of the 10th century but the Serbian state achieved independence under Stefan Nemanja who proclaimed himself Grand Prince (grand zhupan) of Serbia around 1170. Stefan Nemanja gained independence from the Byzantine Empire after the death of the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel I Komnenos in 1180 and expanded the territory of Serbia to Kosovo and Duklja. The Byzantine Empire felt threatened by the Serbian expansion but failed to recapture the lost lands despite defeating the Serbian forces in the battle at Morava River in 1190. Nemanja’s foreign activities and successful internal politics resulted in the strengthening of feudal system and suppression of the Bogomil heresy, and became the basis for the future rise of Serbia.

Stefan Nemanja

Stefan Nemanja

Stefan Nemanja founded the Nemanjic Dynasty and is widely regarded as the founder of Serbia. Shortly after reconciliation with the Byzantine Empire – marriage between niece of Isaac II Angelus and Nemanja’s son Stefan (later Stefan II Prvovencani) Nemanja abdicated, retired to his Studenica monastery and adopted the monastic name Simeon. His son Stefan was elected Grand Prince, while his first born son Vukan became the ruler of the province of Zeta (1196). However, brothers soon came into conflict, while Stefan II broke off relations with the Byzantine Empire, separated from his wife Eudocia and turned to the Holy See. Hungary that was disturbed by Stefan’s plans helped Vukan who overthrown his brother and proclaimed himself the Grand Prince of Serbia in 1202. Stefan II emigrated to Bulgaria where he gained support for his return in Serbia, probably in exchange for Serbian eastern territories. The rivalry between Vukan and Stefan II finally ended with Stefan’s restoration to the Serbian throne after intervention of Saint Sava, their youngest brother and the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Serbia developed rapidly after the reconciliation between Vukan and Stefan II and successfully withstood the attacks of the Latin Empire, the Bulgarian Empire and the Despotate of Epirus which greatly lifted its foreign prestige. Stefan II connected himself with Venice through marriage with Ana Dandolo, grand-daughter of Venetian doge. Stefan’s successful diplomacy and good relations with Venice also helped him receive the crown from Pope Innocent III in 1217. Stefan II assumed the title Prvovencani (“the First-Crowned”), while Serbia became a kingdom ruled by the Nemanjic Dynasty over the following two centuries.

Great Moravia

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
Cyril and Methodius

Cyril and Methodius

Decline of the Carolingian Empire in the middle of the 9th century was taken advantage by the Slavic peoples who established the Empire of Great Moravia in today’s Bohemia, Silesia, Slovakia, southern Poland and northern Hungary. About the same time the territory of Great Moravia became a conflict area between East Francia and the Byzantine Empire. Great Moravian Prince, Rastislav (r. 846-870) turned to the Byzantine Emperor Michael III with an aim to loose himself of the Carolingian political as well as religious pressure. Thus Rastislav asked the Byzantine Emperor to send him teachers who would interpret Christianity in the Slavic vernacular. Missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius arrived in Great Moravia in 864 but Svatopluk I (r. 871-894) who overthrown Rastislav with Carolingian support expelled the followers of Saints Cyril and Methodius.

The period after the Svatopluk’s death in 894 was marked by the internal struggles and constant warfare with East Francia which was taken advantage by the Hungarians who invaded and destroyed Great Moravia in the early 10th century.

Kievan Rus

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Varangians – the Vikings played the crucial role in the establishment of Kievan Rus. They built their trade centers in the eastern Baltic from where they penetrated deep into today’s Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, and traded with the Byzantine Empire and Asia. The primal goal of the Varangians was the quest for new markets and trade routes but it ended with occupation of today’s western Russia, Belarus and Ukraine where they established their kingdom – Kievan Rus.

Vladimir I

Vladimir I

Kievan Rus was established about 882 when prince Oleg, the ruler of Novgorod seized Kiev and made it his capital. His successors led successful campaigns against the Khazars, Pechenegs and Bulgarians, and several times endangered the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines managed to repulse the Kievan aspirations through political means and achieved an alliance with Kievan Rus through marriage of Anna, sister of Byzantine Emperor Basil II and the Grand Prince of Kiev, Vladimir I (980-1015). Kievan Rus reached its zenith during the reign of Vladimir I and his successor Yaroslav I the Wise (1019-1054). The Golden Age of Kievan Rus also saw adoption of Christianity and increased influence of the Byzantine culture.

Kievan Rus began to decline in the second half of the 11th century mostly due to nomadic invasions and struggles over the throne. In the middle of the 12th century began to rise the regional centers of power: Halych on the west, Novgorod on the north, Vladimir-Suzdal on the northwest and Kiev on the south. However, Kievan forces were severely defeated by the Mongols in the Battle at Kalka River in 1223 and Kievan Rus was invaded and subjugated by the Mongols in 1237-1240.

Byzantine Empire (5th – 9th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The establishment of the Byzantine Empire is commonly dated to year 324 when Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great (306-337) moved the imperial capital to Byzantium which came to be known as Constantinople. The Western and Eastern (Byzantine) parts of the Roman Empire were finally divided on the death of Emperor Theodosius I in 395.

Emperor Justinian I

Emperor Justinian I

In contrary to the Western Roman Empire which was destroyed by the barbarian invasions, the Byzantine Empire managed to repulse the invasions of the Visigoths, Huns, Avars, Slavs, Bulgarians and the Persians which marked the reigns of Arcadius (395-408), Theodosius II (408-450), Marcian (450-457), Leo I (457-474), Leo II (474), Zeno (474-745 and 476-491), Anastasius I (491-518) and Justin I (518-527). Justin’s successor Justinian I (527-565) restored the former power of the Byzantine Empire. Ambitions of Justinian I to restore the territory of the former Roman Empire resulted in successful military campaign against the Vandals in Northern Africa in 533-534, recapture of Italy from the Ostrogoths in so-called Gothic War (535-540 and 542-552) and of southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula from the Visigoths in 552.

Justinian I was triumphal in Western Europe but the Byzantine Empire was greatly weakened by the attacks of the Persians on the east and threatened by the invasions of the Slavs, Bulgarians, Huns and Avars on the north at the beginning of the 6th century. Thus the reigns of Justinian’s successors Justin II (565-574) and Tiberius II Constantine (574-582) were marked by the Persian-Byzantine Wars and Slavic invasions in the north, while much of Italy has been captured by the Lombards. Maurice (582-602) transformed the shattered Byzantine Empire into a well-organized medieval state. He restored the Byzantine authority in Western Europe and North Africa by reorganizing the Byzantine dominions into exarchates ruled by the military governors or exarchs.

Maurice was killed in an army rebellion in 602 and the Byzantine throne was assumed by Phocas (602-610) who served as an officer during Maurice’s Balkan campaigns. The Byzantine Empire reached its lowest point during Phocas’ reign and was greatly weakened by the invasions of the Slavs on the north and of the Persians on the east. The Byzantine throne was in very serious situation assumed by Heraclius (610-641) who deposed Phocas and had him killed. Heraclius decisively defeated the Persians in 629 but he neglected the northern frontiers. Slavic peoples settled in the Balkan by year 615, while Heraclius barely managed to defend Constantinople from the Avars. Heraclius’ reign was also marked by increased Hellenization of Byzantine social, political and cultural life as well as by military reorganization of provinces into Themes.

Heraclius was succeeded by his son Constantine III (641) who died only after four months and was succeeded by his younger half-brother Heraclonas (614). However, rumors that he murdered Constantine III resulted in revolt and his deposition. The new Byzantine Emperor became the son of Constantine III, Constans II (641-668) under the regency of the senators. His early reign was characterized by the invasions of the Arabs who captured Egypt, extended their influence in North Africa and seized the islands of Cyprus, Rhodes, Kos and Crete. The Arabs defeated the Byzantine fleet in the naval Battle at Phoinike (off Lycia) in 655 but they were unable to take advantage of the victory because of the inner conflicts. When the Arab threat on the east ceased Constans II launched a campaign against the Slavs in Macedonia and forced them to recognize the Byzantine rule. Afterwards Constans II concentrated on Italy but the Papacy felt strong enough and refused Monothelitism as a compromise between the Eastern and Western Churches. Meanwhile Constans II became very unpopular and he was assassinated in Syracuse in 668.

Constantine IV and his retinue

Constantine IV and his retinue

The army in Sicily proclaimed Mezezius (668-669) the new Byzantine Emperor but the Exarch of Ravenna assassinated the usurper. The Byzantine throne was assumed by Constans’ son Constantine IV (668-685). The reign of Constantine IV was marked by increased Arab pressure and annual Arab attacks on Constantinople but the Byzantines managed to withstand the Arab attacks. The Arabs withdrew and agreed to pay tribute to the Byzantine Empire after decisive defeat in the Battle of Syllaeum in Pamphylia in 678 when the Byzantines used the Greek fire for the first time. Constantine IV launched a military campaign against the Bulgarians immediately after the Battle of Syllaeum but he failed to stop the Bulgarian expansion. Constantine IV was succeeded by his son Justinian II (685-695 and 705-711) who continued military campaigns in the Balkans and renewed the war against the Arabs. His administrative reforms were opposed by the aristocracy and resulted in his deposition in 695. The Byzantine throne was assumed by Leontios (695-698) who was deposed and imprisoned after three years of reign by Tiberios III (698-705). The latter acted as the Byzantine Emperor until 705 when Justinian II returned and restored his power. Justinian’s second reign was characterized by brutal suppression of his opponents which provoked an uprising. Justinian II was captured and executed together with his son from his second marriage with Theodora of Khazaria in 711. Thus the rule of the Heraclian dynasty founded by Emperor Heraclius (610-641) came to an end.

The period following the execution of Justinian II in 711 and the accession of Leo III in 717 was marked by a civil war and rapid switches on the Byzantine throne. The period of instability as well as of the Arab threat ended with the accession of Leo III the Isaurian (711-741) whose reign was also notable for a series of edicts against the worship of images (726-729). Leo’s prohibition of veneration of the icons provoked a long struggle over iconoclasm which reached its height under his son and successor Constantine V (741-775). However, many of his rigid decrees against the use of images in worship were abolished by his son and successor Leo IV (775-780), while his wife Irene that acted as regent to Leo’s 10-year-old son and successor Constantine VI (780-797) restored the veneration of icons. Irene summoned the Council of Nicaea in 787 which formally revived the adoration of images. The circles that strongly opposed to the adoration of images supported Constantine VI who wanted to rule as sole emperor. Irene was banished in 790 but she was recalled two years later and granted the title of empress. Shortly after her return Irene organized a conspiracy, overthrown her son and ruled as sole empress from 797 to 802. Irene’s revival of adoration of images improved the relations with the Papacy but the Byzantine influence in Western Europe began to decline.

First Bulgarian Empire (7th – 9th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Bulgarians (Turkic origin, later slavicized) moved from their homeland in Central Asia and settled at the mouth of the Danube in today’s southern Russia and Bessarabia in the middle of the 7th century. The Bulgarian invasions in the Byzantine territory did not represent any greater threat until they crossed the Danube and permanently settled between the Danube River and the Balkan mountains. The Byzantine Empire was at the time helpless against the Bulgarians who managed to subjugate the Slavic population.

The Bulgarians were slavicized and assimilated with the Slavic population over the next two centuries but they kept their name. They also remained the ruling class and established the First Bulgarian Empire in 682 which was also recognized by the Byzantine Empire. The First Bulgarian Empire developed into a important power in the Balkans during the reign of Khan Asparuh and his successors, especially during the rule of Khan Krum (802-814) and his son Omurtag (814-831). They expanded the frontiers of the Bulgarian Empire to the territory of former Avar state east of the Tisza river and captured Sofia from the Byzantine Empire.

Kingdom of the Gepids

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
Kingdom of the  Gepids

Kingdom of the
Gepids

The Kingdom of the Gepids was situated along the Tisza River on the territory of the former Roman province of Dacia. The Gepids established a kingdom after the Battle at the Nedao River which took place after unexpected death of Attila the Hun in 454. Attila’s successors were decisively defeated by the Gepids led by Ardaric who was one of the closest companions of Attila. The Hunnic power in Eastern Europe collapsed, while the Gepids conquered the center of the former Hunnic state and the entire Dacian territory. The Gepids also concluded a foedus treaty with the Byzantine Empire and were granted an annuity. However, a rivalry between the Gepids and the Ostrogoths under Theodoric the Great broke out shortly afterwards and resulted in the defeat of the Gepids in 488 and in 505.

The Kingdom of the Gepids reached its height after 539 when the Gepids extended their territory to Lower Pannonia with center in Sirmium (today’s Sremska Mitrovica). Their rivalry with the Lombards was taken advantage by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I who concluded an alliance with the Lombards in the middle of the 6th century and severely defeated the Gepids in the Battle of Asfeld in 551. The Kingdom of the Gepids was finally destroyed by the allied Lombard and Avar forces in 567.

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