Byzantine Empire

The city of Tyre falls to the Venetian Crusade. July 7, 1124.

The Venetian Crusade, an expedition to Holy Land launched by the Republic of Venice at the request of the Pope, took place from 1122 to 1124 and ended in victory for the crusaders when they took the city of Tyre. This victory meant the start of a period in which the Kingdom of Jerusalem expanded to its largest size under the reign of Baldwin II. On February 15, 1124, the Venetians and the Franks laid siege to the port city of Tyre (now part of Lebanon). Tyre was at the time part of the territory under the control of the Atabeg of Damascus, Toghtekin. The Latin army was commanded by the Patriarch of Antioch, the Doge of Venice, Pons, Count of Tripoli and William I de Bury, the king´s constable. During this time, Baldwin II had been taken prisoner by the Artukid leader, Balak Ghazi, emir of ...

Syracuse captured by the Aghlabids. May 21, 868.

Ibrahim I ibn Aglab, governor of the M´Zab Valley (Algeria) since 787, was designated by the Abbasid caliph emir of the Ifriqiya, in response to the anarchy that reigned in the province, that belonged to the Baghdad Caliphate. Ibrahim controlled an area that included the east of Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli. Although totally independent in everything except for the name, his dynasty always acknowledged their belonging to the Aghlabid Caliphate. He built his palace in the new capital, El Abasiya, to the outskirts of Kairuan, partly so that he could escape from the opposition of jurists and theologians that disapproved their “sinful” way of life as well as the unfair treatment that they had given to the Muslim Berbers. The Aghlabids had to deal in the limits of their emirate against the Berb...

Empress Irene of Athens. April 19, 797.

On November 1, 768, a young and beautiful girl from Athens arrived to Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire. At the time she was one of the many applicants to marry Leo IV, future emperor. History nevertheless will remember her as one of the most powerful and controversial Byzantine Empresses, not only for her solo rule and her opposition to her son, but also for stopping, at least for some time, iconoclasm. Irene was unlikely to be chosen as Leo´s future wife for two reasons: first, she came from a noble family from Athens, not from Constantinople´s aristocracy. The second reason, even more significant, was that the Emperor Constantine V fiercely defended iconoclasm, while Irene supported, and possibly also professed veneration of icons. This was a pinp...

Bardas Phocas against Basil II. February 7, 987.

Bardas Phocas was descendant of the Phocas Clan, an aristocratic family who consistently produced very competent generals that acted supplanting the actual heirs of the Macedonian Dynasty by acting as the authentic rulers of the Byzantine Empire. Let´s not forget that the Byzantine Empire at this time (during the second half of the tenth century) was characterized by long periods of military campaigns and many territories were conquered during this period. When Basil II ascended to the power at the death of his brother John I Tzimiskes in 976, tensions began to surface between the court and the emperor, that tried to rule without any exterior influence. This situation finally resulted in a major rebellion led by Bardas Phocas the Younger, the most powerful man left of the old Phocas Clan. ...

The Sacrifice of Stamira. September 1, 1173.

Emperor Frederick Barbarossa bore a long-standing grudge to Ancona, one of the Italian Maritime Republics, for its assertion of independence. Ancona had already stubbornly and successfully resisted an earlier attempt of Imperial occupation in 1167. Moreover, to counterbalance the power of the Holy Roman Empire, the Anconitans made a voluntary submission to the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, and the Byzantines maintained representatives in the city. In the later part of May 1173 the Imperial forces, commanded by Christian von Buch, Archbishop of Mainz, laid siege to Ancona. In preparation for this step, the imperial troops had previously requested and obtained the naval alliance of the Republic of Venice. Despite the ongoing conflict between the Empire and the Italian cities associate...

Heraclius and Constantine. January 22, 613.

In 608, Heraclius the Elder renounced his loyalty to the Emperor Phocas, who had overthrown Maurice six years earlier. The rebels issued coins showing both Heraclii dressed as consuls, though neither of them explicitly claimed the imperial title at this time. Heraclius’s younger cousin Nicetas launched an overland invasion of Egypt; by 609, he had defeated Phocas’s general Bonosus and secured the province. Meanwhile, the younger Heraclius sailed eastward with another force via Sicily and Cyprus. As he approached Constantinople, he made contact with prominent leaders and planned an attack to overthrow aristocrats in the city, and soon arranged a ceremony where he was crowned and acclaimed as Emperor. When he reached the capital, the Excubitors, an elite Imperial Guard unit led b...

Attila the Hun. June 4, 452 AD.

  Attila, frequently called Attila the Hun, was the ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in March 453. He was also the leader of a tribal empire consisting of Huns, Ostrogoths, and Alans among others, in Central and Eastern Europe. During his reign, he was one of the most feared enemies of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. He crossed the Danube twice and plundered the Balkans, but was unable to take Constantinople. His unsuccessful campaign in Persia was followed in 441 by an invasion of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the success of which emboldened Attila to invade the West. He also attempted to conquer Roman Gaul (modern France), crossing the Rhine in 451 and marching as far as Aurelianum (Orléans) before being defeated at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. He s...

December 10, 1041. The love of Zoe.

Zoë Porphyrogenita reigned as Byzantine Empress alongside her sister Theodora from 10 April 1042 to June 1050. She was also enthroned as empress consort to a series of co-rulers between 1028 and 1042. Zoë was born to a nominal co-emperor, Constantine VIII, but lived a life of relative obscurity until the age of 47. Her uncle Basil II then died, leaving the Byzantine throne entirely to her father. As he had no sons, Constantine hoped to continue the dynasty by marrying off one of his daughters and determined that the ruling house would be continued by one of them being married to an appropriate aristocrat. Romanos Argyros, the urban prefect of Constantinople, was the next to be considered as a match, after considering Constantine Dalassenos “too strong and difficult to manipulate”. Theodora...

The Battle of Manzikert. August 26,1071.

The Battle of Manzikert occurred on August 26, 1071 between the Byzantine Empire and Seljuk Turkish forces led by Alp Arslan, resulting in the defeat of the Byzantine Empire and the capture of Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes. During the 1060s the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan allowed his Turkish allies to migrate towards Armenia and Asia Minor, where they sacked cities and plundered farmland. In 1064 they destroyed the Armenian capital at Ani. In 1068 Romanus IV led an expedition against them, but his slow-moving infantry could not catch the speedy Turkish cavalry, although he was able to capture the city of Hierapolis. In 1070 Romanus led a second expedition towards Manzikert, a Byzantine fortress that had been captured by the Seljuks, and offered a treaty with Arslan: ­ Romanus would give back Hi...

The Dome Collapses. May 7, 558.

On 23 February 532, only a few weeks after the destruction of the second basilica, Emperor Justinian I decided to build a third and entirely different basilica, larger and more majestic than its predecessors, built by Constantius II and Theodosius II. Justinian chose physicist Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles as architects; Anthemius, however, died within the first year of the endeavor. The construction is described in the Byzantine historian Procopius’ On Buildings (Peri ktismatōn, Latin: De aedificiis). Columns and other marbles were brought from all over the empire, throughout the Mediterranean. Even though they were made specifically for Hagia Sophia, the columns show variations in size. More than ten thousand people were employed. This new church was con...

The Battle of Nineveh. December 12, 627.

The Battle of Nineveh was the climactic battle of the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602–628. The Byzantine victory later resulted in civil war in Persia, and for a period of time, restored the Roman Empire to its ancient boundaries in the Middle East. This resurgence of power and prestige was not to last, as after a few years, an Arab Caliphate emerged from Arabia and once again brought the empire to the brink of destruction. The victory at Nineveh was not total: the Byzantines were unable to capture the Persian camp. However, this victory was significant enough to shatter the resistance of the Persians. With no Persian army left to oppose him, Heraclius’ victorious army plundered Dastagird, Khosrau’s palace, and gained tremendous riches. Khosrau had already fled to the mountains o...

Justin´s madness forces his abdication. December 7, 574.

  As insanity invaded the mind of Justin, he became aware that he had to name a colleague for succession of his throne. Passing over his own relatives, he raised, on the advice of his wife Sophia, the general Tiberius to be Caesar in December 7 574, adopting him as his son, and withdrew into retirement. According to John of Ephesus, as Justin II slipped into the madness of his final days he was pulled through the palace on a wheeled throne, biting attendants as he passed. He reportedly ordered organ music to be played constantly throughout the palace in an attempt to soothe his frenzied mind. The tardy knowledge of his own impotence determined him to lay down the weight of the diadem; he showed some symptoms of a discerning and even magnanimous spirit when he addressed his assembly, Y...

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