The Byzantine Empire was the most powerful Empire in all of Europe during the early medieval period. The Empire came into being following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. During the early medieval period, the Byzantine ruler who took the title of the “Emperor” was the most powerful ruler in Europe.
The sphere of the influence of powerful Byzantine kings such as Justinian I stretched all the way from North Africa and Italy to Levant. Following are some of the most powerful Byzantine kings.
Justinian The Great was the king of the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565. It was during his reign that the Empire was able to regain control of most of the lost territories of the Western Roman Empire, effectively making Italy a second power base for the Empire.
Justinian also launched campaigns to regain control of North Africa as well as territories in southern Iberia, giving the Empire the undisputed control of the Mediterranean. Justinian actively supported the Eastern Orthodox Church but he also permanently established the control of the Emperor over the Church. As a patron of arts, Justinian’s reign marked a renaissance of sorts in the Empire with its most iconic manifestation being the Hagia Sophia church, a marvel of architecture.
Constantine I became the ruler of the Byzantine Empire at a time when the Western Roman Empire still existed, though fledgling under attacks and internal pressures. Constantine was able to subdue the civil unrest throughout the vast breath of the Western and Eastern empires, becoming the sole ruler in 324.
He was notable for overt support for Christianity and the establishment of Constantinople as the capital of the Byzantine Empire. His support for Christianity played a central role in letting the new religion flourish within Roman and Byzantine borders, effectively providing Christianity the critical base from which it spread throughout Europe.
Leo I became the ruler of the Byzantine Empire in 457. During his reign, the Empire reeled back from a period of relative instability and regained strength. At the time, the Western Roman Empire was under attack from the Germanic tribes and Leo I actively supported the Empire.
He also captured many territories lost by the Western Roman Empire and consolidated them under the Byzantine Empire. His reforms helped revitalize the Empire and restore its power with the Emperor regaining direct control over the army.
Theodosius I became the ruler of the Byzantine Empire in 379. His reign marks a watershed in the history of Europe since he was the first Byzantine ruler to officially declare Nicene Christianity as the religion of the Empire. He also banned pagan rituals throughout the Byzantine Empire, putting an end to many cultural icons of the Hellene culture such as the Olympic games and yearly festivals.
Although critical in laying the basis for a Christian identity of the Empire, Theodosius I’s intolerance of non-Nicene Christianity and other religions brought instability to the Empire. His reign ended in 395.