Famous Byzantine Empire Rulers

The Byzantine Empire came into being out of the original Roman Empire and continued long after the Western Roman Empire had ended.

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It came to symbolize a distinct type of culture, surviving in one way or the other all the way until the 15th century. Following are some of the most iconic rulers of the Byzantine Empire.

Map of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantine Empire

Constantine the Great *306 – 337 AD

Constantine the Great was the Roman emperor who ruled from 306 to 337 AD. He was born in Naissus and in 293 AD, he was sent east where he rose to fame. He became an emperor by the army of Eboracum after the death of his father.

Constantine the Great *Famous Byzantine Empire Rulers

Constantine the Great *Famous Byzantine Empire Rulers

He fought many civil wars to become the sole ruler of the east and west. As an emperor, he brought significant social, political, military, and economic reforms.

His major achievement was restructuring the military forces. He was known for being the first Christian Roman emperor who changed the church greatly and gave freedom of religion to all. He died on May 22, 337 AD.

Julian the Apostate *361 – 363

Julian the Apostate was the Roman emperor from 361 to 363. He was also an author and philosopher. He promoted Neoplatonic Hellenism and rejected Christianity.

This was the reason he became famous as Julian the Apostate. He became Caesar over the Western provinces where he campaigned against Alamanni and Franks.

His remarkable victory was at the Battle of Argentoratum in 357 against Alamanni. This was a great victory against the Germanic army which was three times larger. He was a non-Christian ruler who revived ancient Roman values and traditions.

Theodosius the Great *379 – 395

Theodosius the Great was the Roman emperor from 379 to 395. He was the last emperor to rule over the Eastern and Western halves of the Roman Empire.

During his reign, he campaigned against Goths and other barbarians who had invaded the Empire. He fought two civil wars defeating the usurpers Magnus Maximus IN 387-388 and Eugenius in 394.

Being a practicing Christian, he made Nicene Christianity the official church of the Roman Empire by issuing a decree.

Diocletian *284 – 305

Diocletian was the Roman emperor from 284 to 305. He was born in Dalmatia and rose through the ranks of the military and became the commander to the Emperor Carus.

After the death of Carus, he became the proclaimed emperor. During his reign, he stabilized the economy and ended the crisis of the third century.

He won various victories and defeated Sarmatians and Carpi during various campaigns from 285 to 299. He also defeated usurpers in Egypt from 297 to 298.

He expanded the Empire’s civil and military services hence establishing the largest bureaucratic government in the history of the empire. Despite the challenges, his reforms fundamentally changed the structure of Roman Empire militarily and economically.

Zeno the Isaurian *474 – 475

Zeno the Isaurian was the emperor of the Eastern Roman empire from 474 to 475 and again from 476 to 491. His reign brought various revolts and religious dissonance.

During his reign, the Western Roman Empire ended following the death of Julius Nepos and the deposition of Romulus Augustus.

He contributed to establishing the Eastern Roman Empire. He fought in the military campaigns against Goths and fought against Atilia to defend Constantinople.

He issued an act of union to mediate Chalcedonian and Miaphysite views about the nature of Christianity. He died in 491 in Constantinople.

Heraclius *610 – 641

Heraclius was the Byzantine Emperor from 610 to 641. He rose to fame when he and his father ran a campaign against the usurper Phocas. His reign witnessed various military campaigns as he faced threats on multiple frontiers. He took charge of the Byzantine Sasanian war of 602-628.

In the first battles of this war, the Byzantines were defeated but Heraclius avoided total defeat as Constantinople was protected by a strong wall.

He won the battle of Nineveh in 627. However, he lost many of his regained lands to Muslims who conquered the Sasanian Empire, Armenia, and Egypt. He tried to repair the schism in the Christian church but was unsuccessful because of the disputes from all sides. He died on February 14, 641 in Constantinople.

Basil I *867 – 886

Basil I was the Byzantine emperor from 867 to 886. He was born a simple peasant but rose to the imperial court because of his ability in running the affairs of the state.

He became a respected monarch who ruled for 19 years despite having no military experience and formal education. As he brought various judicial and legislative reforms, he is often known as the second Justinian.

He was the first Byzantine emperor since Constans II who actively pursued restoring the empire’s power in the West. He formulated the Greek local code later known as Basilica.

Alexius *1081 – 1118

Alexius I was the Byzantine emperor from 1081 to 1118. During his reign, the Komnenos family came to full power. His rule was faced with constant warfare against Seljuk Turks and the Normans in the western Balkans.

He inherited a collapsing empire yet he was able to cope up with the challenges by beginning the military, social and financial reforms. He also asked for help from Western Europe against the Turks which contributed to the convoking of the crusades.

Anastasius I *491 – 518

Anastasius I was the Byzantine emperor from 491 to 518. Before coming to the throne, he was the government administrator. He brought various reforms during his reign and brought improvements in economy and bureaucracy in the Eastern Roman empire.

Due to his reforms and introduction of a new currency, he left the imperial government with a budget surplus. He fought Isaurian war against the usurper Longinus that lasted from 492 to 497.

This was fought between the Eastern Roman Empire and rebels of Isauria. Anastasius regained control at the end of this battle. He was also engaged in Anastasian war against Sasanian Empire. He remained emperor of the Empire until his death in 518.

Justinian the Great *527 – 565

Justinian the Great, also known as Saint Justinian the Great, was the Eastern Roman emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, he revived the empire’s glory and re-conquered the western half of the Roman Empire from barbarians and invaders.

He is also referred to as the last Roman because of his restoration activities. He was best known as a legislator, for revising Roman law and implementing his judicial reforms.

He provided laws to protect prostitutes from exploitation and gave severe punishments to the rapists. He recovered large stretches of land around the western Mediterranean that had previously been lost by the Roman Empire.