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European Kingdoms

Eastern Mediterranean

 

Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire
Dynasty of Justinian (AD 518-602)

From the start, the capital of the newly-created Eastern Roman empire was based at Constantinople, dedicated by the emperor Constantine the Great in 330.

Elements of Jewish Diaspora communities within the empire faced persecution during the sixth century. As a result many Jewish families emigrated, with some going east into the Sassanid empire with its better tolerance of Jews, and the first such groups heading into the mountain kingdom of Iberia-Kartli. They lived in new communities in the capital, Mtskheta, which were distinctive from the long-established homes of the Georgian Jews or Mountain Jews in Kolkis.

Eastern Roman Emperor Basil II in iconography

(Information by Peter Kessler, and from External Links: History of the Byzantine Empire (Live Science), and Jewish Heritage Cultural Routes in Georgia.)

518 - 527

Justin I

First successor to the Leonid dynasty. Rebuilt empire.

523 - 525

Under pressure from the Eastern Romans, the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia installs a Christian king in Yemen (Saba).

Byzantine coins of Justin I
Shown here are two sides of a type of coinage which was typical of that being issued under Eastern Roman emperors, Justin I and Justinian I, during the height of Eastern Roman power in the aftermath of the collapse of the western empire

527 - 565

Justinian I

533 - 534

General Belisarius is sent to North Africa with an army, and in one campaigning season, the Vandali are conquered. Ancient Carthage becomes the exarchate of Africa. In this and later campaigns by the general, the Heruli feature as notable members of his forces, even supplying his personal guard. Corsica and Sardinia, both former Vandali possessions, are also captured and appended to the empire (in 534 and 533 respectively).

535 - 537

After the death of Theodoric, Ostrogothic control in Italy had never been quite so complete. The disruption has increased to such an extent that in 535 General Belisarius is sent to conquer the peninsula and bring it back under imperial control. He enters Rome in 536, shortly before it is besieged by King Vittigis. The city suffers starvation until the siege is lifted and Belisarius pursues his opponents. Before he does this he is ordered by Empress Theodora in Constantinople to depose Pope Sylverius in favour of her choice, Vigilius. So begins a period of over two hundred years in which the Eastern Roman emperors dominate the papacy.

541 - 542

The 'Plague of Justinian' strikes Constantinople with the arrival of bubonic plague, probably carried on grain ships from Egypt. Justinian is one of the few to contract the disease and survive, but the rest of the Eastern Roman empire is devastated by it, and critically weakened at the point at which it is about to conquer all of Italy and bring it under the rule of one Roman emperor for the first time since AD 395. It probably also contributes to the rapid rise of the Islamic empire in the following century, as the number of available troops, fighting on many fronts to secure the empire, is too low to contain the Arab tidal wave.

543 - 545

This period sees missionary work carried out by Julian, who proselytises in Nobatia on behalf of the Eastern Roman empire. The new religion appears to be adopted with considerable enthusiasm.

550/551

The Gothic writer Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople, completes his sixth century work at this time, entitled Getica. Among many other things, it provides an account of the origins of the Sclavenes or Sclaveni (Slavs, but various translations produce the two different plural suffixes seen here).

In relation to them he mentions two other kinds of professional warriors, the Antes and 'Venethi' or 'Venethae', although he appears confused as to the exact relationship between the three groups. This could be due to that relationship being a confused one in the real world, with the Venedi probably undergoing a gradual absorption by newly-arriving Slav groups and also by their various masters over the ensuing centuries (Huns, Goths, Avars, Magyars, etc). The Venethae (Vinidi, or Venedi) are associated with the great fourth century king of the Ostrogoths, Hermanarich, while the Antes are linked with his successor, King Vinitharius. No specific deeds with regard to the Sclaveni are ascribed to any Gothic ruler, showing that they are essentially a post-Gothic institution.

552

The death of Totila at the Battle of Taginae allows Rome to be retaken by Constantinople, which governs Italy from Ravenna. The city of Rome remains under domination by the Eastern Romans until the eighth century but a civil government slowly emerges to take control of Roman regional affairs in the late ninth century, often vying for power with the pope.

565 - 578

Justin II

567

Over the past two decades, the Langobards have been granted subsidies by Justinian I and encouraged to fight the Gepids, who have established a large kingdom in Dacia. In effect, they are being hired as mercenaries, a role they fulfil to perfection. The Gepid kingdom is destroyed by 567 while their capital, Sirmium, reverts to the Eastern Romans.

568 - 571

The Lombards invade Italy from the north, and the power of the Eastern Romans from their base at Ravenna wanes over the course of the next two centuries. The emperor sends Longinus as exarchate of Ravenna to stem the Lombard advance, but he can do little else but defend the coastal territories with the powerful Eastern Roman fleet. Much of Italy is very quickly lost to the Lombards who create their own kingdom in the north, and two independent duchies in the centre: Spoleto and then Benevento.

574 - 578

Tiberius II

Caesar (junior emperor). Became sole emperor in 578.

578 - 582

Tiberius II

Former Caesar.

580

Tiberius II reorganises the surviving Roman territories in Italy into five provinces which are given the Greek name eparchies. This use of Greek instead of Latin is part of a gradual shift for the Eastern Romans away from their Italian roots and towards greater integration with their permanent homeland in Greece. The new provinces are the Annonaria in northern Italy around Ravenna (which incorporates the duchy of the Pentapolis, a strip of five Adriatic coastal cities immediately south of Ravenna, and below that the duchy of Perugia, both governed directly from Ravenna), Calabria, Campania, Emilia, and Liguria, and the Urbicaria around the city of Rome (Urbs). To the north, the duchy of Venice remains nominally under the service of the Eastern Romans.

582 - 602

Maurice

Murdered by General Phocas and the throne usurped.

582

The ancient city of Sirmium, a Roman city, on and off, since the first century BC, is now conquered and destroyed by the Avars, temporarily removing Eastern Roman influence in Dacia.

580s - 590s

According to a much later story, a large group of proto-Bulgars under the command of three brothers reaches the River Tanais (the modern Don) from Central Asia. Here one of the brothers, called Bulgarios, takes 10,000 people with him, parts with his brothers and, with the permission of Emperor Maurice, settles in Upper and Lower Moesia and Dacia. Here, no doubt, they can be used as a buffer against the Avars whom Maurice pushes to the north of the Danube by 599. Other Bulgars, along with Barsils and Pugars, are used as a buffer against steppe nomads in the northern Caucasus.

c.590

Ancient Nubia is once more brought into the orbit of the Mediterranean world by the arrival of Christian missionaries from the Eastern Roman empire. The kingdom of Dongola converts to Christianity, as does Alodia and Nobatia. Axum's influence is strong there, and the missionary work is carried out by the first Monophysite bishop of Nobadia, Longinus. The church of Alodia remains subordinate to the bishop of Alexandria from the start.

602

Maurice's reign has been troubled by financial difficulties and almost constant warfare. Now a dissatisfied general named Phocas usurps the throne, having Maurice and his six sons executed in the process. This event proves a disaster for the empire, sparking devastating war with the Sassanids and a Jewish revolt in Palestine, and witnessing the first Non-Dynastic emperor on the throne.

 
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