Sunday, December 10, 2017

Empress of Byzantium: Eudokia

Empress Irene of Athens
Welcome back to this series of summaries of the lives of Byzantine Emperors in my latest Crusader Kings 2 campaign. Part 1 is here. It had more of an audience than I thought it would, and I was going to do these anyway, so I'm happy to keep doing them. I've been informed that these posts fall into the genre of "After Action Report," or AAR. So welcome to my CK2 AAR.

Diverging from History: 769 - 819

Just for fun, I want to review the time period my last post covered, but in actual history. There are some important differences that are going to make for some long-term consequences. At this point in my game we're past the point where real historical characters are around, so this "diverging from history" section probably won't appear in later posts.
  • In history, Constantine V died in 775, at the age of 57. In my game he lasted a full additional twenty years, getting to actually follow through on his plans for Bulgaria, then dying at the ripe old age of 77.
  • Leo IV took the imperial throne in 775 and was a fervent iconoclast until he died during a Bulgarian campaign of fever in 780. In my game he also died of fever, in 779, but not as emperor, as Constantine hadn't died yet.
  • Constantine VI, son of Leo IV and Irene of Athens, took the throne in 780 at age 9 and reigned for 17 years (he didn't even exist in my game). Initially, his mother Irene acted as Empress regent, but tried to become the de jure Empress. This plan backfired and Constantine became official Emperor in 790. During this time he convened the second council of Nicaea, which sought to put an end to the Iconoclast controversy. He was a poor ruler, and a conspiracy to put his mother in power was hatched.

Mosaic depiction of Irene of Athens in the Hagia Sophia
  • In 797, Irene of Athens, wife of Leo IV, became Empress Regnant after the faction supporting her captured Constantine VI. She had her son's eyes gouged out and he died quickly soon after. During her time as Empress, she finally ended Iconoclasm, but didn't get the support of the Pope, who crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans. Irene would be the last of the Empire's historical Isaurian Dynasty. In my game, Irene never had the opportunity to become empress, as her husband Leo died before he could become emperor, and Constantine V married her. There are some interesting parallels between her and the subject of this post, Eudokia. 
  • In 800, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III after taking Italy from the Lombards in 774. In my game he never invaded Italy, though he did establish the Empire of Francia, then died of food poisoning in 788. His nephew Pepin inherited the throne, but was defeated in an uprising by house Baugulfson, who have held it ever since. This is a major point of departure from history - the Carolingian dynasty in France was hugely important for the formation of Western Europe as we know it today. It's going to be interesting to see what the long-term consequences are for Charlemagne's early death.

Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne, by Friedrich Kaulbach, 1861

In history, Pope Leo III's motivations for crowning Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans came from disgust over the current state of the Empire. At that time, it was in the midst of the Iconoclast controversy, and was ruled by Irene, the first Empress (read: woman) with real power. But in my timeline, Iconoclasm ended early, with Emperor Nikephoros, and it was he who was on the throne instead of Irene. With Charlemagne failing to take Italy from the Lombards, the Pope must not have had more faith in either one of the Catholic empires than the other, negating the need to grant a spiteful title. Now, one can only think that the Pope is biding his time, waiting to see which way the balance of power tips in Europe...

Eudokia (819 - 856)

Empress Eudokia of the Isaurian dynasty inherited the throne of Emperor Nikephoros and thus became the first Empress Regnant in Roman history. Some accounts say that she was indeed the first female ruler in all of Western history.

Nevertheless, the fact of her gender immediately mired her rule, with various generals declaring their support for her son from her first marriage, Frederi de Perigord. Frederi was already Doux of Armeniacon, a title inherited from his father the Exarch of Serbia (who had been assassinated by the late Emperor Nikephoros). The Empire was plunged into civil war when the new Empress tried to remove her eight year old son from power.


Though the Empire was rich, the civil war drained the coffers of Constantinople as it dragged on. Eudokia employed the Varangian guard as well as mercenary bands to put down the rebellion waged in her son's name. Eventually the war was won and the various conspirators were thrown in prison. Frederi suffered a more unique fate, being castrated and thus made ineligible to inherit any titles. Her rule secure, the Empress divided administration of her Empire among loyal generals.

Eudokia then turned to an acute problem: she needed to give birth to an heir. Frederi was her only child up to that point, and at 35 years old, she knew her time was limited. Her second husband, Guitard Capet, hadn't managed yet to get her pregnant. In desperation, she started a series of adulterous affairs with various generals throughout the empire. Eventually she did get pregnant, and had a son in 826, who she named Augustus. The Empress would then go on to have more children, most of illicit parentage, though this was unknown to Guitard at the time. (Years later, Guitard learned of these affairs and planned to assassinate the empress, enraged that his children were not actually his own. The Empress discovered this plan though, and quickly had the Ecumenical Patriarch annul her marriage. She then showed mercy to Guitard - instead of having him executed for treason, she ordered him to take the vows and become a monk, living the rest of his years in seclusion. Eudokia went on to re-marry twice.)

With the support of her generals and the question of succession out of the way, Eudokia put in motion her long-term plan to restore the Empire to its former glory. This plan was based on the work of Justinian's "renovatio imperii," which saw the empire regain much of its lost territory in the post-Germanic, pre-Muslim world.

Justinian's borders

Eudokia sought first to reunite Justinian's organization of the Catholic churches, the Pentarchy. Doing so would eliminate any question about the Empire's legitimacy as steward of the universal church, as well as heal the rift between Rome and Constantinople caused by the Iconoclast controversy. Her work was cut out for her - the eastern churches were in the lands of the Abbasid caliphate, and the Church of Rome held its own land in the Empire's former Exarchate of Ravenna. The Empress would have many campaigns ahead of her.

She was blessed when an opportunity arose in the form of a revolt within the Abbasid Caliphate. The Caliphate had been subjugated by the Western Protectorate of the Tang Dynasty in China, who had extended its influence over Tibet and was encroaching westward. They briefly held the Abbasids as a tributary state until various parts of it rebelled. The Empress Eudokia took advantage of the situation to stage an invasion of Jerusalem, conquering and holding the city within the Abbasid lands.

In addition to her religious campaigns, the empress also sent her legions to secure the eastern frontier, grabbing the Bolghar territory that used to be within the Exarchate of Georgia. Due to her quick successive military campaigns, the Empress became known as "Eudokia the Bold".


Expansion had consequences, however. Managing the various officials and administrators that managed her realm became difficult as their number increased. Among these officials rose talk about restoring power to the Senate, a governmental body that had been politically irrelevant since the reign of Emperor Diocletian half a millennium ago. (More recently, Justinian had further consolidated the power of the Emperor, putting him at odds with the nobility, resulting in the Nika riots and subsequent massacre.) Many of the Empire's generals were still uneasy with the idea of a female ruler, so they backed the effort to restore the senate.

A proud ruler with something to prove, Eudokia refused to meet the demands of the Senatorial faction. Soon, the empire was plunged into another costly civil war. The chaos of the civil war presented problems for supply lines. Though she had plenty of money and man-power, moving it all to the front lines proved a costly endeavor. A battle fought early in the war at Koloneia gave the Empress a phyrric victory. The Empire's coffers would not recover after the battle, nor would it be easy to recruit fresh soldiers. Eudokia began to settle in for a long, drawn-out conflict, when the Abbasid caliphate attacked from the south.

The second Byzantine Senate building, the Magnaura

The Empresses's army was fighting in Jerusalem, where the Varangian Guard, having joined the Senatorial faction, had quickly taken over the land-locked city. Upon receiving news of the Abbasid invasion, the Empress quickly called for a truce with the Senatorial faction. Preferring to lose to fellow Romans than the Muslim invaders, she agreed to give the senate some measure of formal power, then marched north and defeated the Abassids.

Eudokia came close to her goal of reuniting the five churches of the Pentarchy, retaking Alexandria from the Muslims in Africa. Her last target was perhaps the most important: Rome. However, Eudokia died in the midst of drawing up these plans, at the age of 68. The task of reclaiming Rome and reuniting the western and eastern halves of Christianity would fall upon her newly-crowned son: Emperor Augustus II.

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