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Byzantine Emperors of Armenian descent on gold coin

The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural and military force in Europe.

Even though Armenia was only in part a vessel of the Byzantine Empire, many Armenians became extremely successful in the Empire. Armenians were represented in all walks of Byzantine life; from bishops, architects, generals and even Emperors. So much so that some historians estimate that one out of five Byzantine emperors and empresses were full or in part of Armenian ancestry.

Bellow is a list of gold coin (a.k.a. solidus) of Byzantine Emperors confirmed (by at least 3 or more source) to have full or partial Armenian ancestry.

Maurice (r. 582-602)

A prominent general, Maurice fought with success against the Sasanian Empire. Under him the Empire’s eastern border in the South Caucasus was vastly expanded. Maurice also campaigned extensively in the Balkans against the Avar Khaganate pushing them back across the Danube. Maurice also made the first real effort to halt the advance of the Lombards in Italy. The Byzantine troops were able to hold the Danube line. Meanwhile, Maurice was making plans for repopulating devastated areas in the Balkans by using Armenian settlers.

Medieval Armenian historians such as Stepanos Taronetsi and Kirakos Gandzaketsi claim Maurice to be of Armenian origin. It has been accepted by Nicholas Adontz, Peter Charanis and Henri Grégoire.

Herakleios (r. 610-641)

Heraclius drove the Persians out of Asia Minor and pushed deep into their territory, defeating them decisively in 627 at the Battle of Nineveh. This way peaceful relations were restored to the two deeply strained empires. Heraclius was the eldest son of Heraclius the Elder and Epiphania, of a family of Armenian origin from Cappadocia, with speculative Arsacid descent. Heraclius took for himself the title of “King of Kings” after his victory. Later on, starting in 629, he styled himself as Basileus, the Greek word for “sovereign”. The reason Heraclius chose this title over previous Roman terms such as Augustus has been attributed to his Armenian origins.

Herakleios was the son of Heraclius the Elder, who is almost universally recognized as an Armenian. Walter Kaegi notes that Heraclius was presumably “bilingual (Armenian and Greek) from an early age. According to 7th century Armenian historian Sebeos, Heraclius was related to the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia. In a letter, Priscus, a general who had replaced Heraclius the Elder, wrote to him “to leave the army and return to his own city in Armenia”.

Mizizios (r. 668-669)

Mizizios (Armenian: Mzhezh) was an Armenian noble who served as a general of Byzantium, later usurping the Byzantine throne in Sicily from 668 to 669. According to the Byzantine chroniclers, Mizizios was an Armenian, and “exceedingly handsome and beautiful”.

Considered Armenian by mainstream scholarship. He came from the Gnuni family.

Philippikos Bardanes (r. 711-713)

Philippicus was originally named Bardanes (Armenian: Vardan). He was the son of the patrician Nikephorus, who was of Armenian extraction from an Armenian colony in Pergamum. Among his first acts were the deposition of the orthodox patriarch Cyrus of Constantinople, in favour of John VI, a member of his own sect, and the summoning of a conciliabulum of Eastern bishops, which abolished the canons of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. 

Considered Armenian by mainstream scholarship.

Artabasdos (r. 741-743)

Artavasdos or Artabasdos (from Armenian: Artavazd), was a Byzantine general of Armenian descent who seized the throne in June 741. Emperor Anastasius II appointed the Armenian Artabasdos as governor of the Armeniac theme (Thema Armeniakōn), the successor of the Army of Armenia, located in Armenia Minor with its capital at Amasea. After Anastasius’ fall, Artabasdos made an agreement with his colleague Leo, the governor of the Anatolic theme, to overthrow the new Emperor Theodosius III. This agreement was sealed with the engagement of Leo’s daughter Anna to Artabasdos, and the marriage took place after Leo III ascended the throne in March 717.

In June 741 or 742, after the accession of Leo’s son Constantine V to the throne, Artabasdos resolved to seize the throne. He seized Constantinople amid popular support and was crowned emperor. Soon after his accession, Artabasdus crowned his wife Anna as Augusta and his son Nikephoros as co-emperor, while putting his other son Niketas in charge of the Armeniac theme. 

Considered Armenian by mainstream scholarship. Nina Garsoïan suggests that he hailed from the Mamikonian house.

Leo V the Armenian (r. 813-820)

Leo was the son of the patrician Bardas, who was of Armenian descent. Leo became governor of the Anatolic theme and conducted himself well in a war against the Arabs in 812, defeating the forces of the Cilician thughur under Thabit ibn Nasr. 

Leo V ended the decade-long war with the Bulgars, and initiated the second period of Byzantine Iconoclasm. Leo V appointed competent military commanders from among his own comrades-in-arms, including Michael the Amorian and Thomas the Slav. He also persecuted the Paulicians. When Leo jailed Michael for suspicion of conspiracy, the latter organized the assassination of the Emperor in the palace chapel of St. Stephen on Christmas Eve, 820.

Leo V is widely called Armenian by modern and Byzantine scholarship. Armenian chronicles claimed he was an Artsruni.

Michael III (r. 842-867)

Michael III was the third and traditionally last member of the Amorian (or Phrygian) dynasty. Michael III played a vital role in the resurgence of Byzantine power in the 9th century, with his main achievement being the Christianisation of Bulgaria.

Michael III took an active part in the wars against the Abbasids and their vassals on the eastern frontier and particularly in 857 when he sent an army of 50,000 men against Emir Umar al-Aqta of Melitene. In 859, he personally led a siege on Samosata, but in 860 had to abandon the expedition to repel an attack by the Rus’ on Constantinople. 

Under the guidance of Patriarch Photios, Michael sponsored the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodios to the Khazar Khagan in an effort to stop the expansion of Judaism among the Khazars. Although this mission was a failure, their next mission in 863 secured the conversion of Great Moravia and devised the Glagolitic alphabet for writing in Slavonic thus allowing Slavic-speaking peoples to approach conversion to Orthodox Christianity through their own rather than an alien tongue.

Mother of Michael III, Theodora, the wife of Theophilos is considered by most scholars to have been of Armenian origin.

Basil I (r. 867-886)

Born a simple peasant in the theme of Macedonia, he rose in the Imperial court. Earned the notice of Michael III by his abilities as a horse tamer and in winning a victory over a Bulgarian champion in a wrestling match; he soon became the Byzantine Emperor’s companion, confidant, and bodyguard. Symeon Magister describes Basil as “… most outstanding in bodily form and heavy set; his eyebrows grew together, he had large eyes and a broad chest, and a rather downcast expression”. 

During Basil’s reign, an elaborate genealogy was produced that purported that his ancestors were not mere peasants, as everyone believed, but descendants of the Arsacid (Arshakuni) kings of Armenia. The historians Samuel of Ani and Stephen of Taron record that he hailed from the village of Thil in Taron.

Basil I became an effective and respected monarch, ruling for 19 years, despite being a man with no formal education and little military or administrative experience. During his reign Basil was heavily reliant on the support of Armenians in prominent positions within the Byzantine Empire. 

His father is widely considered to be of Armenian origin. The Armenian descent of his mother is debated but usually also considered Armenian. Armenian medieval historians Samuel Anetsi and Stepanos Taronetsi claimed that he hailed from the region of Taron. He is also “presumed to have descended from the kingly house of the Arsacids.”

Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 913-959)

Romanos Lekapenos, born in Lakape between Melitene and Samosata (hence the name), was the son of an Armenian peasant with the remarkable name of Theophylact the Unbearable. The first four years of Romanos’ reign were spent in warfare against Bulgaria and eventually negotiated a 40 year peace with Bulgaria and established an alliance with the Serbs. Romanos was also able to effectively subdue revolts in several provinces of the empire, most notably in Chaldia, the Peloponnese, and Southern Italy. The capture of Melitene is often considered the first major Byzantine territorial recovery from the Muslims. 

The Khazars were the allies of the Byzantines until the reign of Romanos, when he started persecuting the Jews of the empire. According to the Schechter Letter, the Khazar ruler Joseph responded to the persecution of Jews by “doing away with many Christians”, and Romanos retaliated by inciting Oleg of Novgorod against Khazaria.

According to several scholars Romanos I Lekapenos was of Armenian descent.

Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969)

His brilliant military exploits contributed to the resurgence of the Byzantine Empire during the 10th century. Under his reign, relations with the Bulgarians worsened. It is likely that he bribed the Kievan Rus to perform a raid on the Bulgarians in retaliation for them not blocking Magyar raids. This breach in relations instigated a decades-long decline in Byzantine-Bulgarian diplomacy and was a precursor for the wars fought between the Bulgarians and later Byzantine emperors. Nikephoros led an army of 40,000 men which conquered Cilicia and conducted raids in Upper Mesopotamia and Syria.

According to several scholars he was of at least partial Armenian descent.

John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976)

An intuitive and successful general, he strengthened the Empire and expanded its borders during his short reign. John I Tzimiskes was born into the Kourkouas clan, a family of Armenian origin. Scholars have speculated that his nickname “Tzimiskes” was derived either from the Armenian Chmushkik (Չմշկիկ), meaning “red boot”, or from an Armenian word for “short stature”. A more favorable explanation is offered by the medieval Armenian historian Matthew of Edessa, who states that Tzimiskes was from the region of Khozan, from the area which is now called Chmushkatzag.” Khozan was located in the region of Paghnatun, in the Byzantine province of Fourth Armenia (Sophene). He seems to have joined the army at an early age, originally under the command of his maternal uncle Nikephoros Phokas. The latter is also considered his instructor in the art of war. Partly because of his familial connections and partly because of his personal abilities, Tzimiskes quickly rose through the ranks. He was given the political and military command of the theme of Armenia before he turned twenty-five years old.

Tzimiskes distinguished himself during the war both at the side of his uncle and at leading parts of the army to battle under his personal command, as in the Battle of Raban in 958. He was rather popular with his troops and gained a reputation for taking the initiative during battles, turning their course.

Considered Armenian by mainstream scholarship. According to the medieval Armenian historian Matthew of Edessa Tzimiskes was from the region of Khozan, from the area which is now called Chmushkatzag.”

Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Byzantine_emperors_of_Armenian_origin


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