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Athena Review  Vol.3, no.1:   Byzantine Cultures, East and West


A Chronology of the Early Byzantine World


AD 284-305: Diocletian and the Tetrarchy

AD 284: Diocletian became Roman Emperor. He split up the empire through power-sharing, and had some military successes. He also failed to control inflation through coinage reform, and persecuted Christians to discourage the spread of their doctrine.

286: Diocletian promoted Maximian (Caesar of the Western Empire) as co-emperor.

293: Diocletian begins the Tetrarchy or Rule of Four, splitting the empire into four parts. Keeping the East for himself, Diocletian along with Maximian appointed Galerius and Constantius Chlorus as Caesars.

297: Galerius wins victory over Persians; within a year, all four emperors stage successful military campaigns, focusing on specific regions.

303: “The Great Persecution” of Diocletian begins on Oct. 3 ordering Christian churches to close and give up scriptures, with the clergy required to perform pagan sacrifices.

305: Diocletian voluntarily abdicates, forcing Maximian to do so as well. Galerius and Constantius Chlorus (father of Constantine the Great) become the new Augusti, but the new Caesars are disputed. Constantine flees Galerius’ court and joins his father in Britain. Maximinus Daia and Severus are appointed Caesars.

AD 306-312: Constantine I

306 (25 July): Constantius Chlorus dies at York. The army declares his son Constantine as emperor, but Galerius only accepts him as a Caesar. Constantine then rules in Gaul and Britain for the next six years.

307: Constantine marries Fausta, daughter of former Emperor Maximian, who had taken over Italy with his son Maxentius.

310: Suicide of Maximian after he had opposed Constantine.

311: Emperor Galerius restores freedom of religion before dying at Sirmium. Constantine and Licinius take over Italy.

312 (27-28 October): Constantine confronts Maxentius and his army at Saxa Rubra, 8 miles NE of Rome. The night before the battle, Constantine dreams about the Christian Chi-Rho sign, which he is told to paint on his arms or shields. On the next day, he has a vision of a cross over the sun and the words “conquer with this,” and dreams of meeting with Christ. Winning a decisive battle over Maxentius at Milvian Bridge, Constantine now becomes ruler of the entire Western Empire.

[Fig.1: Helena, the mother of Constantine I, shown on a coin (photo: CNG 1996).]

AD 313: The Edict of Milan, declaring freedom of worship, returns all previously confiscated property to the Church. Official conversion of the Roman Empire begins. By the same agreement, Licinius allows Constantine to keep territories he had conquered, and marries his sister, Constantia.

323: Constantine defeats Licinius in Adrianople, Thrace, to become sole emperor.

326-330: Constantine visits Rome where his refusal to attend a pagan sacrifice on the capitol offends local populace. Accordingly, Constantine begins to promote Constantinople (on the site of ancient Byzantium,Turkey) as the “New Rome.”  On 11 May, 330 Constantine attends High Mass in Constantinople, dedicating the city. This marks the official start of the Byzantine Empire.

331-334: Constantine closes down all pagan temples in the empire.

337 (22 May): Constantine, on his deathbed, is finally baptized and appoints his three sons (Constantine II, Constantius, and Constans) as Caesars. They divide up the empire, giving the largest part, including Constantinople, to 15 year-old Constans.

339: Constans exchanges Constantinople to Constantius for his support against Constantine II.

340: Constantine II invades Italy, then Gaul, but is ambushed and killed by Constans outside Aquiliea.

340-350: Constans maintains power but in 10 years has become unpopular, threatened with an army revolt. In 350 Magnentius, a pagan officer, declares himself emperor. Constans flees, is captured, and killed.

351: Constantius defeats Magnentius at Mursa, and became sole ruler of the empire.

AD 355-363: Julian the Apostate

355: Constantius, faced with Germanic hostility, conspiracies in his own army, and the need for a separate emperor in the west, appoints as Caesar his closest remaining relative, Flavius Claudius Julianus (fig.2). Julian (later “the Apostate”), a student of Greek philosophy, attempted an ambitious revival of pagan practices, which compounded 4th century religious struggles.

357: Julian wins a major victory over the Franks. In the east, Constantius repels a major invasion in Mesopotamia.

359: King Shapur of Persia captures the fortress at Amida.

360: Julian restores imperial rule along the entire Western frontier, but refuses Constantius’ demands for reinforcements against the Persians. 361 (30 Nov.): Civil war is averted when Constantius gets malaria and dies. Julian, as sole emperor, attempts to restore worship of the ancient gods.

363 (5 March): Julian departs for the East with 90,000 men to fight the Persians, and a few months later dies from a spear wound inflicted in battle.

[Fig.2: Gold coin (solidus) of Julian II , called “Julian the Apostate” ( photo: CNG 1997)].

AD 376-476: The Huns, Goths, Vandals, Theodosius, and Stilicho

376: Westward expansion of Huns forced Ostrogoths across the Danube; Emperor Valens allows them to settle in Thrace, ordering local officials to give them food and shelter. Lupicinius, Count of Thrace, steals from them instead, leading to attack on the Romans by Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Huns.

378: Valens dies in battle in the Balkans. Gratian, the next emperor, seeks help from Theodosius, a skillful military leader and general’s son who is raised to co-Augustus. In 380, Theodosius (“The Great”) makes peace with the Goths and creates order in Thrace.

383: The usurper Magnus Clemens Maximus, a general in Britain, is acclaimed Augustus by his men. Gratian murdered, due to his sympathies for Germanic barbarians.

388: Massacre at Thessalonica: soldiers of Theodosius kill 7,000 townspeople in Hippodrome.

395 (17 Jan.): Death of Theodosius the Great, last emperor of a united Roman Empire. His two sons, Arcadius and Honorius, rule East and West. Stilicho (fig.3), a Vandal and second in command of Goths in the Army, is made responsible for Honorius.

400: The Goths revolt under Alaric, first in command of the Goths in the Imperial Army.

401: Alaric invades Italy, demanding a home for his people in the empire; but is refused by both the Senate and emperor.

402 (April): Indecisive battle near Milan between Goths and Romans (Alaric vs. Stilicho). Alaric loses a subsequent battle at Verona, but Stilicho (suspiciously) lets him escape for a second time.

407: Stilicho, with Alaric as an ally, effectively declares war on the East. Meanwhile, the governor of Britain, another Constantius, tries to usurp in Gaul.

408 (May): Arcadius dies in Constantinople and is succeeded by his seven year old son Theodosius II.

408 (Aug.): Stilicho executed for plotting against Honorius. Roman legionaries attack auxiliary units of Goths, Huns, and Vandals, who seek aid from Alaric.

[Fig.3: Stilicho, the General of the Roman Army under Honorius, shown on an ivory diptich in Monza, Italy.]

408 (Sept.): Alaric and Goth and Vandal armies attack Rome. Without Stilicho, the Roman army has no effective leader, and pays ransom to save the town.

AD 408-455: Honorius, Galla Placidia, and the Collapse of the Western Empire

408 (Dec.): Honorius refuses to give Alaric territory for loyalty and flees Rome. Seeking sanctuary in the coastal town of Ravenna, he receives six legions from Theodosius II and more troops from Heraclian, governor of Africa, who cuts off the barbarian’s grain supply in Italy.

409: Vandals, driven west by Huns, go to Spain.

410: Alaric returns to Rome for another siege. Takes city in two months, and allows three days of pillaging, with orders not to touch churches. A few days later, Alaric dies of a fever.

414: Theodosian walls built in Constantinople, while Theodosius’ nun-like sister Pulcheria (age 15) is proclaimed Augusta.

421: Theodosius marries Athenais, a Greek pagan who converts to Christianity (renamed as Eudocia). In 422 they have a daughter, Eudoxia.

423: Honorius dies on 26 Aug. The empty throne is seized by Johannes, Chief of Notaries. Theodosius confirms Galla Placidia (fig.4) as Augusta and makes her son, Valentinian III a Caesar.

425: Byzantine armies take Ravenna, and Johannes is executed.

[Fig.4: Galla Placidia, shown on a silver coin (photo: CNG).]

428: Gaiseric, king of the Vandals, leads all 160,000 of his people to settle in North Africa.

438 (15 Feb.): The Theodosian Codex, meant to emphasize unity of the empire, is promulgated by the rulers of East and West.

439: Gaiseric the Vandal establishes an independent autocracy in Carthage; conquers Sicily.

447: Attila and the Huns move southeast to Constantinople. Stopped by the Theodosian Walls, they engage the Byzantine army at Gallipoli until Theodosius agrees to triple the tribute.

450: Galla Placidia dies after ruling in Valentinian III’s name. On 25 July Theodosius II dies from a fall. Pulcheria marries Marcian, a Thracian senator who refuses to pay protection money to Attila. Huns march into Italy and Gaul.

451: Huns reach the walls of Orléans. The next year (452) Attila enters Italy but leaves without invading Rome. He soon dies on his wedding night.

455: Valentinian is killed, leaving no heirs. Soon afterwards, Gaiseric’s Vandal army attacks Rome. Vandals accept appeal by the Pope Leo (the Great) to spare city, and take everything of value (plus Eudoxia and her daughters) back to Carthage.

AD 457- 493: Reigns of Leo I & Zeno

457: The Eastern Emperor Marcian dies, ending the Theodosian dynasty. Army general Aspar, a barbarian and Arian leading a powerful Germanic element, backs Leo (crowned 4 Feb 457 in Hagia Sophia) and remains a power behind the throne. Leo undermines Aspar by putting the Isaurians (a barbarian group under the imperial command) in the army and in positions of power, with the Isaurian chieftain Zeno marrying Leo’s daughter Ariadne.

468: Leo launches a campaign against Gaiseric the Vandal, led by Basiliscus, who invades Carthage with 1000 ships and 100,000 men, but lacks leadership and strategy skills. Gaiseric’s emissaries met Basiliscus asking five days truce, after which Gaiseric was to surrender. The Vandals used the time to prepare for war, and set fire to the entire Byzantine fleet in the harbor.

471: Theodoric becomes leader of the Ostrogoths. Ten years as a child hostage in Constantinople had provided him with valuable knowledge of Byzantine affairs and methods.

474: Leo dies, and nine months later Zeno, now emperor, signs a peace accord with the Vandals.

476: Western Empire collapses as the young Emperor Romulus Augustus abdicates to barbarian general Odoacer. Eliminating the Roman Imperial office altogether, Odoacer hands over to Constantinople the insignia of the West and takes title of Patrician to rule Italy. Lacking either imperial authority, or control of the water supply, the Bishop of Rome is compensated with some extra secular authority, beginning the age of the medieval Papacy.

484: Leontius sets up rival court at Antioch.

488: Illus and Leontius surrender in Isauria to Zeno and his ally Theodoric, Prince of the Ostrogoths. On Zeno’s suggestion, Theodoric leads the Ostrogoths to Italy to overthrow Odoacer and establish a kingdom under imperial sovereignty.

491 (9 April): Zeno dies in Constantinople. Flavius Anastasius ascends the throne, marries Ariadne, and cuts public expenditures.

492: Zeno’s brother Longinus, seeking the throne, accuses Anastasius of hypocrisy for signing a declaration of orthodoxy upon taking office. Longinus is exiled after starting a civil war. Anastasius bans Isaurians from Constantinople; fighting continues for 3 years in Anatolia.

493 (15 March): After four years of battle, Theodoric tricks Odoacer to enter Ravenna, then kills him. Thus begins Theodoric’s 33-year reign, which leaves Romans independent from Ostrogoths.

AD 519-537: Justinian and Theodora

519: Anastasius dies and Justin I ascends the throne. His nephew, Justinian, is immediately promoted from an officer in the palace regiment to Count of Domestics, and essentially rules through his uncle from then on.

525: Justinian marries the ex-prostitute Theodora.

527 (4 April): Justinian and Theodora are crowned co-emperor and -empress with equal power. On 1 Aug. Justin dies, leaving them as sole rulers.

529: The 1st edition of the Codex of Justinian is completed, with the Digest or Pandects (a collection of writings of all ancient Roman jurists) published in 530. The Institutes, a handbook of excerpts intended for use in law schools, is finished in 533.

530: Justinian’s general Belisarius wins a victory over the Persians.

532: Byzantine citizens revolt over Justinian’s corrupt ministers, especially Praetorian Prefect Eudaimon, tax collector John of Cappadocia, and Tribonian, Quaestor (highest law officer in the government). The insurrection is called the Nika riots, after the cry of “Nika!” (Win! or Victory!). Rioters burn the palace of the City Prefect, the Praetorian Prefecture, Senate House, Church of St. Eirene, Church of St. Sophia, and many other buildings. They call for dismissal of the three ministers, agreed to by Justinian who is persuaded to stay by Theodora. Belisarius and Mundus lead troops to suppress the riots, killing thousands of citizens.

532: Byzantines and Persians sign a peace treaty. With discontent within the empire quieted, Justinian turns his attention to reconquering the west.

533 (21 June): A military expedition under Belisarius to the Vandal kingdom in North Africa includes Hunnish cavalry, who strike fear in the hearts of the Vandals. Belisarius immediately defeats the Vandal army. Vandal king Gelimer flees westward, and on 15 Sept. Belisarius enters Carthage, now the Vandal capital.

534: After two unsuccessful battles, Gelimer finally surrenders.

535: Justinian sends Belisarius to conquer Italy.

536: After capturing Sicily, Belisarius takes southern Italy as far as Naples, which puts up resistance. Barbarian soldiers are released to pillage. Local Goths blame Theodahad for the loss of Naples, depose and execute him, and put Vitiges on the throne. On 9 Dec. Belisarius enters Rome. The Gothic army flees, and Belisarius strengthens the city walls and stockpiles food and water.

537: Vitiges and the Gothic army begin a year-long siege of Rome. Romans endure famine, while the Goths endure pestilence. The aqueducts are cut, causing malaria. Justinian makes a halfhearted attempt to send reinforcements.

537-565: Belisarius and the Gothic wars

537 (Nov.): Byzantine general John is sent out by Belisarius to harass the Goths during a truce. John then sets up headquarters at Rimini.

538 (March): Vitiges ends siege of Rome and flees north, pursued by Belisarius. The Goths besiege Rimini, but are expelled as more troops from Constantinople arrive under Narses, a eunuch who was one of Justinian’s advisors.

539: After Belisarius’ army occupies Milan with 300 men, Vitiges lays siege and captures it. Justinian recalls Narses to Constantinople and Belisarius regains control of the army, completing the capture of Italy south of Ravenna. Vitiges persuades the Persian king Chosroes I to attack the Byzantines and force them into war on two fronts.

540: Belisarius recalled to Constantinople. (June): Chosroes captures Antioch; Byzantine troops sent eastward.

542: Totila, new Goth leader, promises lower taxes and redistribution of rich Roman estates. Captures Naples and releases Byzantine garrison.

543: Justinian recovers from bubonic plague and calls Belisarius back into service. His daughter is betrothed to the empress’ grandson.

544: Totila leaves Naples for Rome. Belisarius arrives in May with a token force which takes a few small cities. Little local support for the Byzantines.

545-546: Belisarius asks Justinian for help and sails up the Tiber to attack Totila from behind as he lays siege to Rome, but fails. On 17 Dec., discontented Roman soldiers open the city gates to Totila.

548: Theodora dies.

549: Belisarius returns to Constantinople

550 (15 Jan.): Soldiers again open the gate of Rome for the Goths, who settle in instead of raiding.

552 (June): Narses and the Byzantine army defeat and kill Totila, then take Ravenna and Rome. In Oct. Goths agree to leave Italy.

559: Huns attack, but Belisarius stops them.

562: Belisarius, accused of plotting against the throne, was again stripped of his title until Justinian reinstates him eight months later.

565 (March): Death of Belisarius. On 14 Nov., Justinian also dies. By the end of his reign, the army had shrunk, and money had dwindled from tributes paid to various tribes for maintaining the borders. His nephew, Justin II (now emperor) stops paying such “protection money,” thus effectively opening up the empire to barbarian invasions.

568: The Lombards, a Germanic people, enter northern Italy and gain ascendancy for 200 years.


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