Sunday, December 10, 2017

Emperors of Byzantium

I've started playing a new (my third) Crusader Kings 2 campaign, and this time it's the big one: Rome. Technically I'm playing as the Byzantine Empire, the remaining part of the severely diminished Imperium Romanum. The rules of this game are set to be historical - no supernatural events, no defensive pacts, pagan religions can't reform, and Seljuk and Mongol invaders appear when they're supposed to.

I'm going to start chronicling the lives of the Emperors of Byzantium as they occur in this game. There's enough drama within the empire that it may be interesting, at least to somebody who takes an interest in Roman history and game simulation stuff.



In 769 AD, Byzantine Rome is on the ropes. Over the preceding centuries the Roman Empire had been picked apart by Germanic invaders, Italy and Gaul now belonging to the Lombards and Franks respectively. More recently, Egypt and the Levant were swept under the Islamic invasions from the Arab peninsula. Now Byzantium faces invaders on two frontiers - steppe nomads encroach from the north, and the Abbasid Caliphate rules the east. To add to the instability, the empire is in the grips of the Iconoclast heresy, a version of Catholicism that rejects veneration of images and iconography. The Catholic Church in Rome has distanced itself from the Empire partially due to this heresy, leaving the churches of Western Europe under the jurisdiction of the Pope. Konstantinos V of the Isaurian dynasty is the Iconoclast ruler of this weakened empire. Can he secure his borders and put an end to the religious conflict that threatens the stability of Catholic Europe?

Konstantinos V (769 - 795)

Konstantinos V, also known as Constantine V, technically began his rule in 741, but the game begins in 769. The Wikipedia page provides a good account of his rule up until 769, but I'll summarize it here.

Constantine, son of Emperor Leo III the Isaurian, the founder of the Isaurian dynasty, received the throne at age 23 upon his father's death. Leo had been a contentious Emperor, issuing religious edicts against the veneration of images and then subsequently being excommunicated by the Pope and losing the Exarchate of Ravenna, one of the Empire's last links to Rome.

Quickly after taking the throne, Constantine was thrust into a civil war as his brother-in-law Artabasdos attempted to become Emperor. Artabasdos was an Iconophile, and upon defeating him Constantine became an even more fervent Iconoclast. Constantine organized a council of the church to push through Iconoclastic reforms, which were resisted. The Emperor relied on his general Michael Lachanodrakon to persecute the uncooperative monks and other Iconophiles.

Constantine had successful military campaigns in the east, striking victories against the Umayyad and then Abbasid Caliphates. These victories allowed the Emperor to start pushing westward, against the Bulgarians to the northwest. Starting in 755, Constantine began a series of successful campaigns against the Bulgarian Empire. In 775, Prince Krum of Karvuna marched on Constantinople, but was defeated and his lands were conquered.


In 779, Leon, the heir to the imperial throne, died of slow fever. The legitimate heir to the throne was then Constantine's third son, Nikephoros. A year later, the Empress Eudokia died a natural death. Seeking a wife, at age 61 Konstantinos V then made the unorthodox decision of marrying the widow of his dead son, Eirene Sarantapechos. Eirene was not Iconoclastic, and managed to change the long-held position of the Emperor. Konstantinos renounced Iconoclasm in secret.

In his campaigns against Bulgaria, Konstantinos V managed to conquer the lands south of the Danube before finally dying of camp fever in 795. Though he practiced Orthodoxy in secret, he never publicly renounced the Iconoclast heresy. That responsibility would fall upon his son...

Nikephoros (795 - 819)

Upon succession, Nikephoros immediately renounced the Iconoclast heresy and most of the Empire followed. He then set to secure his position as protector of the faith by reclaiming Antioch, which he did in 796.


Nikephoros then embarked on a series of wars to the west, pushing the Steppe nomads back above the Danube. He parceled out the conquered lands to his generals and created districts for them to administer.

Nikephoros was a known plotter and murderer. During the reign of Konstantinos, the Strategos (administrator of a duchy) of Trebizond had conquered lands to the east and declared himself a king. Not wanting to start a civil war by threatening to revoke the Kingdom, Nikephoros simply had the King of Trebizond murdered, as well as all of his children. By doing this, he developed a reputation as dishonorable, and this reputation hindered him throughout his rule.

During the course of a mysterious illness in 801, Nikephoros was administered treatment that rendered him infertile. This wouldn't be a problem until 813, when the Emperor's heir and only son Konstantinos died of a fever. The Emperor's daughter Eudokia was next in line to the throne, but was already married to the Exarch of Serbia and had a child with him. 


Realizing that the imperial throne would fall out of the hands of his dynasty, Nikephoros acted quickly. With the support of his newly-landed governors, he conspired to assassinate the Exarch of Serbia. The assassination was done quickly, and the Princess returned to court in Constantinople. A matrilineal marriage was then arranged between Princess Eudokia and a member of the Capetian dynasty in France, with the intention that any children of their union would be of the Isaurian dynasty.

Nikephoros's final campaign was for the lost lands of Armenia, then held by the Bolghar tribe, steppe nomads that had converted to Sunni Islam. He led his armies to victory, but not without sustaining wounds which became infected and later killed him. He died at the age of 62 and left the princess Eudokia with a reinvigorated empire, united in faith and with strong borders. However, as a woman with no valid heir, the question then was whether the new Empress Regnant could survive the intrigue of the imperial palace...


  1. Great record so far! Your writing is good enough that you could probably post it on the Paradox Forums AAR thread as well to get more feedback if you're so inclined! :)

  2. I like it. Definitely a different style to my AAR, but I think it actually works better than mine.