Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Emperors of Byzantium, Part 3: Augustus II & Justinian III


This is part 3 of a series. Part 1 (769-819 AD). Part 2 (819-856 AD).

At this point in time, Rome is no longer on the ropes. Many of the empire's provinces have been reclaimed, including three that house the major churches - Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The Abbasids to the east are still a threat, and Catholic Francia to the northwest is spreading, slowly but surely. The schism in the Catholic church threatens to put the two Christian empires at odds. The new Emperor will have to seize the ancient city of Rome in order to mend the great schism and establish a force to be reckoned with throughout the Mediterranean.

Augustus II (856-874)

In 856 Augustus Isauros succeeded to the Byzantine throne as Basileus Augustus II. He was 30 years old and already honored as Caesar. His mother had left him a powerfully revived empire, an emboldened Senate, and a plan to restore the Roman Empire to glory based on Justinian I's work to do the same.

Immediately upon succession, the Abbassids, led by Caliph Zia "the Monster," attacked the empire's holdings in Antioch. For them, it was a short and unsuccessful war. The Caliph was captured early on in battle, and brought before the emperor. Augustus had the Caliph's eyes gouged out then sent him home, where he succumbed to his wounds mere days later. This act would have reverberations throughout the Muslim world.

Augustus then turned his attention to the eternal city. Rome had been held by the Pope ever since the donation of Pepin of the Franks, who had wrested it from the Lombards in 756. In order to follow through on his mother's plan to restore the Pentarchy, the city would have have to be reclaimed. The bishop of Rome would be put in his place.

After capturing the city, Augustus made it the empire's capital once again, establishing a firm presence on the empire's western frontier as they had done with Constantinople in the east in the fourth century. The emperor's plans to reunite the church were frustrated, however, as the Pope went into hiding, continuing to offer communion within the city walls. Outraged by the gall of Augustus to depose the bishop of Rome, western Catholics - most importantly, bishops in Francia and Brittania - still saw the Pope as the head of the church. An Orthodox bishop of Rome was appointed while the emperor considered how to handle the schism in the church caused by his great-great-grandfather.


Soon after the reclamation of Rome, the emperor's wife Li Zhichong gave birth to his first and only son, who he named Justinian. Zhichong was a princess of the Tang Dynasty, and her marriage to Augustus was arranged by the Empress Eudokia as a way to curb the Abbasid power growing between Byzantium and China. Seven years after the birth of Justinian, Zhichong was assassinated by the Exarchessa of Corsica for unknown reasons. The Emperor remarried soon after. He again sought an imperial marriage from China, only this time from the now-ruling Wei Dynasty of the Khitan Tiande family. He married Pusuwan Tiande, who bore him a daughter.

Unbeknownst to Augustus, the middle east had been in political turmoil ever since the return and death of the Abbasid Caliph Zia. A crisis in leadership resulted in the return of the Umayyad dynasty to power, and the new Caliph Muhammad II was eager to score a victory against the Christian empire to the northwest. The Umayyads attempted to invade Armenia, but were finally repelled after several decisive defeats in and around Vaspurakan.

The emperor died not long after these victories, suffering a heart attack in 874 during an intimate moment with his wife. His son Justinian was just 13 years old.

The Emperor's death in 874

Justinian III (874 - 928)

By all measures, Justinian should not have been as successful as he was. From an early age he was shown to be dull, frail, and syphilitic (an ailment that would eventually claim his life). He was plagued with health problems throughout his life, and had a cowardly nature. For most of his reign he didn't have a male heir until one of his daughters bore a son, named Alexander. Two things saved him from ruin: a fanatic belief in a vision of a restored Rome (fostered by his father and grandmother) and a deep and abiding faith in God.

Rome, from Netflix's Roman Empire: Reign of Blood

Justinian III healed the schism in the Catholic church by calling the Second Council of Rome in 908, which firmly established the organization of the church in the Pentarchy. This council effectively settled the question of Papal primacy versus Caesaropapism in favor of the Emperor. It was resolved that the church in Rome would have primacy only after Constantinople. Rome would again have two capitals: an imperial capital in the ancient city, and a spiritual capital in Constantinople. This decision was the culmination of a centuries-long trend of incrementally giving more honor to the church in Constantinople in relation to Rome. It was also decided that the Ecumenical Patriarch would not have supremacy over the church, but would be "primus inter pares" among other autocephalous Patriarchs in the church - including the bishop of Rome.  For reuniting the church, Justinian would become known as a Saint.

Jurisdictions of the autocephalous churches in 908

Justinian took advantage of the instability caused by the Shia uprising in Syria, using the insurgent Blancid Caliphate as a buffer between Antioch and Umayyad Persia. The new Caliph Abdulluh did attempt to take Armenia, as the Umayyads and Abbasids had tried before, but was repelled. Justinian then pushed the Shia Caliphate back away from Antioch, drawing new borders around the holy city.

Justinian III would attempt to carry out his grandmother's plans for reestablishing Justinian I's borders. His generals landed in southern Spain, taking Seville and Cordoba from the Tavirids in Andalusia. He also waged war in Lombard Italy, reestablishing a presence in Ravenna in the north, as well as completely recapturing Latium from the remaining Viking rulers (for a brief time there had been a petty kingdom of Norse Tuscany). These Italian campaigns would continue throughout his rule.

Justinian titled himself Augustus, partially in honor of his father. With the backing of newly-landed generals, he greatly curbed the power of the Senate, which had asserted itself during his grandmother's time. He became known as "Justinian the Glorious".

In 917, while the Umayyads were in the midst of a civil war, Justinian launched a great conquest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Already owning the holy land itself, the Emperor fully established his foothold in the Levant with a new Exarchate of Judea, and drove the Caliphate further eastward. 


His chronic health problems finally caught up to him, and syphilis drove him to madness over the years. He finally died on the 19th of February, 928, after taking Italy from the remaining Lombards and reestablishing the Exarchate of Ravenna. The Empire was left in the hands of his estranged grandson, Alexander.

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