10 Byzantine Emperors Who Met a Violent End
10 Byzantine Emperors Who Met a Violent End

10 Byzantine Emperors Who Met a Violent End

Patrick Lynch - August 20, 2017

10 Byzantine Emperors Who Met a Violent End
Michael V on coins. Wikimedia

8 – Michael V Kalphates (1042)

Michael V was one of the shortest reigning Byzantine Emperors as he spent just four months on the throne. Michael was the nephew of the previous Emperor, Michael IV, who died in 1041. He is commonly known as ‘kalphates’ or ‘the caulker’ after his father’s profession.

He was elevated to the role of Emperor by Zoe (the wife of Michael IV) and his uncle, John the Eunuch. Michael made a terrible mistake by exiling both of his supporters soon after becoming emperor. He was determined to rule by himself and banished John to a monastery. Not only that, he reversed all the decisions made by John and recalled nobles and courtiers that were exiled during the reign of Michael IV.

On April 18/19 1042, Michael sealed his fate by banishing Zoe and officially becoming sole ruler. When he made the announcement the following morning, there was a revolt within the city of Constantinople as a mob surrounded the palace and demanded the immediate restoration of the popular Zoe. Michael quickly folded, and Zoe was restored to her position along with her sister Theodora. They acted quickly as Theodora declared that Michael had been deposed and he fled to a monastery in Stoudion.

Michael had no popular support, so he was hunted down. Even though he had taken monastic vows at this point, he was arrested. His captors proceeded to blind and castrate him before leaving him at Stoudion. He died in August 1042 as a monk.

10 Byzantine Emperors Who Met a Violent End
Alexios II Komnenos on coins. Dumbarton Oaks

9 – Alexios II Komnenos (1183)

Alexios II was just 11 years old when he became emperor in 1180 after his father, Manuel I, died. His mother, Maria, decided that Alexios was too young to rule, so she became regent along with one of the new emperor’s cousins who was also called Alexios. The young emperor’s friends attempted to start a coup to ensure he gained the throne and soon, there were riots in the streets of Constantinople.

Alexios’ friends failed in their quest but on May 2, 1182, Andronikos Komnenos, Emperor Manuel’s first cousin, took advantage of the chaos and tried to place himself on the throne. He entered Constantinople and quickly overthrew the government. Almost as soon as he entered the city, there was a massacre of the Latins, the Roman Catholic inhabitants of the city. An estimated 80,000 people died, and Andronikos didn’t try to stop the purge.

Although Andronikos was happy to allow Alexios II to become emperor, he ensured that everyone close to the young man died. Maria, the other Alexios, and the emperor’s older sister Maria were all executed; apparently, Emperor Alexios was forced to sign the death warrants. It was surely just a matter of time before Andronikos made his move and sure enough, he became co-emperor in September 1183. Rather than wait for Alexios to become old enough to gain sense, Andronikos acted almost immediately.

In October 1183, Andronikos ordered the assassination of his co-emperor and the unfortunate Alexios was strangled by a bowstring. During his brief reign, the Empire’s enemies used the discord in Constantinople to make incursions into Byzantine territory. The Kingdom of Hungary took Bosnia and Syrmia in 1181 and the following year, the Empire lost Sozopolis and Cotyaeum to Kilij Arslan II. Andronikos was now the sole leader of the Byzantine Empire, but he didn’t live long enough to enjoy it.

10 Byzantine Emperors Who Met a Violent End
Depiction of the death of Andronikos Komnenos. Wikimedia

10 – Andronikos I Komnenos (1185)

Andronikos was an old man by the time he eliminated Alexios II in 1183. He was born in 1118 and was known to be a tough, courageous and handsome individual who was also an excellent general. He was taken captive by the Seljuk Turks in 1141 and remained as their prisoner for a year. After his release, he stayed at the court of his cousin Emperor Manuel I Komnenos and Andronikos was one of his favorites.

Despite this fact, Andronikos’ lust for power meant he was involved in a conspiracy against Manuel in 1153, so he was thrown in prison. He tried to escape on several occasions before succeeding in 1165. Andronikos fled to Kiev but returned to Constantinople after allying with Manuel. After refusing to swear allegiance to Bela, later to become Bela III of Hungary and due to be Manuel’s successor, Andronikos was removed from the court but received the province of Cilicia.

Andronikos continued to anger the Emperor and stayed in different locations including at the court of King George III of Georgia. Once Manuel died in 1180 and was succeeded by Alexios II, resentment within the kingdom grew as they disliked the fact that Empress Maria was of Latin origin. Andronikos saw his opportunity and marched on Constantinople with an army in 1182. He became co-emperor in 1183 and murdered Alexios II within a month.

He married Agnes of France and embarked on a short reign known for harsh measures. The aging Andronikos became increasingly paranoid and tyrannical, and soon, he began ordering mass executions. Meanwhile, King William of the Norman Sicilians invaded and got as far as Thessalonica where he killed up to 7,000 people. Andronikos failed to deal with the threat, and by now, he had decided to eliminate the aristocracy.

On September 11, 1185, Stephen, one of the emperor’s most trusted lieutenants, tried to arrest Isaac Angelos on suspicion of disloyalty when Andronikos was away. However, Isaac killed Stephen and hid in the Hagia Sophia. He appealed to the populace, and the popular Isaac was soon declared Emperor. Andronikos tried to flee but was captured along with his wife. Isaac turned him over to the mob, and the emperor was tied to a post and beaten for three days.

Someone cut off his right hand while his teeth were extracted and his hair was pulled out. One of his eyes was gouged out, and boiling water was thrown in his face. He was finally led to the city’s Hippodrome and hung by his feet from a pair of pillars. Two Latin soldiers wanted to see who could cut him the deepest and ultimately, Andronikos’s body was torn apart. Few rulers have ever suffered more as he paid the heaviest price imaginable for his deeds.


Sources For Further Reading:

Met Museum – Heraclius

Medievalists – How to Murder a Byzantine Emperor

History Collection – Lesser-Known Byzantine Empire Facts

History Collection – Under Siege! 10 Little Known Battles of the Byzantine Empire

History Collection – 7 Reasons Why the Byzantine Empire Lasted as Long as it did

History Collection – 5 Reasons Why The Byzantine Empire Finally Collapsed

History Collection – End of an Empire: How the Byzantines Fell at Constantinople in 1453