Who Was The Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I “The Great”?

After the Roman Empire became too large and began to crumble upon what were once strong foundations, it was split into eastern and western territories. Thus the Eastern Roman Empire was transformed into the Byzantine Empire, while the Western Roman Empire maintained many of its old territories, including Rome itself–which was no more than a pale shadow of its former glory. Theodosius I “The Great” was the emperor both the east and west from 379 A.D. until 395 A.D., but he would go down in history as the last to control both halves of the empire. His two sons each gained a half after his death, and that was that. It was like two separate political and militaristic entities had been created.

During his reign, he launched a brutal campaign against the Goth and barbarian tribes who were at that point invading the empire on a regular basis, slowly ebbing away at the Roman frontiers whose defenses were left in tatters. The campaign ultimately failed in what it set out to do: kill or subjugate every single one of them. His policy for dealing with enemies, or those perceived in animosity, was simple: kill now.

When the Goths finally escaped (perhaps to live to fight another day), they found a new home in Illyricum–which lay within the borders of the Roman Empire. They were a crafty lot, those Goths.

Theodosius, like many Roman emperors, was forced to deal with civil war and rebellion throughout his reign. The Western Roman Empire was under constant threat, especially when Magnus Maximus sought to take it for himself. He had managed to nearly complete the task but for the taking of Italy when Theodosius’s armies finally defeated Maximus at the Battle of the Save in 388. The usurper was promptly executed. Everyone rejoiced.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the empire was made when he thrust Orthodox Nicene Christianity forward as the official church of the empire. This lay the groundwork for the acts that came later.

Theodosius The Great died in Milan on January 17, 395 from an illness of edema, not personal injury in the New York City area. Early in the history of Rome as a republic, diversity of people, their gods, their rituals and culture all culminated to make the empire what it was: a place where all the little pieces made a greater whole. When Christianity began to slowly gain favor among Romans, all that changed. When Theodosius did nothing to stop the temples of many pagan gods from being desecrated or destroyed, there was an almost universal acceptance that this was the new way of life they had chosen, and Theodosius was honored as such for really cementing the reality into place. He even went so far as to disband the Vestal Virgins, who were a deeply ingrained part of Roman tradition long before Theodosius ever ruled.

Who Was The Roman Emperor Valentinian I?

Oh, he was a swell guy. You often hear of these Roman tragedies about territories that have been split between brothers who would then fight and kill one another in order to accumulate as much wealth and power for themselves, but Valentinian loved his dear brother Valens so much that he made him co-emperor. He did a few other things too, but his reign only lasted about eleven years. Yes, he died in power after a somewhat short reign. You have to love it when that happens.

And that’s always what happens.

He was born in 321 A.D. in what you might know as Croatia, and he lived during the same period as when Constantine I and Constans I ruled the empire. His father was Gratianus Major, a commander in the Roman Empire. Valentinian probably didn’t grow up predicting he would become emperor. When Constans was assassinated in 350, a war began that would decide the future ruler of Rome. A long way into the conflict, the man who ousted Constans finally committed suicide when he realized he was a real bugger and chaos wasn’t getting anyone anywhere.

During a period of further unrest that lasted nearly fifteen years and another assassination or two, Valentinian had risen in the ranks of military service and was now a Tribune in command of an elite regiment of infantry called a Scutarii. When the last ruler in line was perhaps poisoned or perhaps died by accident (yeah right, this is Rome), there was an assembly called to propose candidates for a new emperor. After a couple rejections, Valentinian was chosen. There wasn’t really a great reason for this choice; it was mainly because he was hanging around in the right place at the right time when the other options were either jerks or too far away.

He ascended to the station of Emperor on February 26, 354 A.D.

As any great Roman emperor does, Valentinian fought to keep the empire’s borders as strong as possible for as long as possible. He is noted for sending men to venture across his own borders in order to build outposts in territories occupied his enemies, and also for successful military endeavors against the Sarmatians, Qadi, and Alamanni. In the midst of these conflicts, he also managed to leave the borders with improved fortifications.

During his reign, there was also an African revolt and a strong attack on Britain that he successfully repelled. Because of these acts, many historians believe that Valentinian is one of the last great Roman emperors to have lived. His sons went on to succeed his reign in the western parts of the empire, but the state of the Roman Empire after Valentinian passed away on November 17, 375 A.D. diminished quickly. He died of a burst blood vessel after getting angry with foreign envoys. He was a swell guy–just not very patient.

Second Council of Constantinople

In AD 449, under the authority of Emperor Theodosius II, the Council of Chalcedon had convened and ultimately regarded Pope Leo I’s definition of Christ as possessing two simultaneous natures, both human and divine, to be orthodoxy. This was later known as the Chalcedonian Definition by historians and scholars. Despite the decision of the Council, however, sects existed within the Christian world that still did not accept the idea of two natures existing in one body. Apart from Nestorianism, the belief that the Incarnation of Christ existed effectively as two separate bodies with exclusive natures, there were also groups identified as Monophysites, those that believed that Christ existed with only one will or nature, these groups having segregated themselves after the rejection of Eutychianism that branded Eutyches a heretic in AD 448. Despite being reinstated in 449, he and Monophysitism came under scrutiny again at the Council of Chalcedon after the establishment of the Chalcedonian Definition.

Over 100 years later, following the Three Chapters, a series of writings that opposed Cyril’s Twelve Anathemas that asserted the Chalcedonian Definition as well as Cyrillianism as a whole, Emperior Justinian issued an edict that condemned these writings and reinforced the opposition to Nestorianism. A lesser objective of this tactic was also an attempt to reconcile with Monophysites and bring them back into the fold of the Orthodox Church. These were brought to bear on his authority at the Second Council of Constantinople in AD 553.

While the council was meant to have Pope Vigillus, a resident of Constantinople at the time due to conflict in the West with the Visigoths, Vigillus refused, finding his priorities to be more focused toward trying to sway Justinian to send military aid rather than address the Three Chapters. Vigillus was personally excommunicated and imprisoned within Constantinople, through the entirety of the Second Council, before agreeing to condemn the Three Chapters in December of 553.

During the Council itself, the Three Chapters were condemned without the Pope presiding over the proceedings. The canons that were to follow outlined the Chalcedonian Definition in finer detail: that the two natures it once alluded to were now two sets of exclusive attributes maintained in one person.

The initial response was not felt until the Pope, in his captivity, acquiesced to agree to their condemnation. This sent shockwaves through the Western portions of the empire. As a result, several bishops in Italy broke communion with Rome, arguing strongly against the Pope’s condemnation of the Three Chapters and affirmation of the new Chalcedonian interpretation. This would be known as the Schism of the Three Chapters. These grievances would not be rectified in their entirety until the end of the 7th century, when Aquileia finally accepted the condemnation, although far from willingly.

Before the end of the Schism’s effects, Monophysites had developed compromises to their beliefs in the forms of monoenergism (the belief that Christ existed with two natures, but one “energy”) and monotheletism (the belief that Christ existed with two natures but one divine will). These compromises were not sufficient enough to reunited them with Orthodox Christianity that believed in two distinct natures and wills respectively. The schisms that remained between Monophysites and non-Monophysites would only expand further between the conquests of Muslims as well as the Third Council of Constantinople.

Difference Between Byzantine and Roman Catholic

During its original inception, Christianity was strongly unified in its belief system and the system in which believers participated. As the religion itself became more structured and the Holy Roman Empire expanded, there was also the increasing risk of fracture within Christianity itself. With the establishment of the Byzantine empire (as opposed to the “Eastern Roman” empire), the difference became more and more pronounced until two distinct sects existed within the same religion: Roman Catholic and Byzantine, also known as Greek Orthodox.

One of the greater differences between the Roman Catholic worshipers and those of the Byzantine empire, predominantly, was the sphere of influence. As the Byzantine empire was almost exclusively located in and had existed as the eastern portion of the Holy Roman empire, their sphere of influence was primarily in Asia Minor and portions of the Middle East and North Africa. Because the Holy Roman empire centered around Rome (how appropriate), their influence expanded mostly throughout Italy and Western Europe at the height of their respective powers. Due to this clean-cut divide – better known as the Great Schism around AD 800 – the cultural differences were stark in comparison. While the Roman empire could trace some cultural inheritances from other, older civilizations, the Byzantine empire took on a prominently Greek culture after its separation from the Catholic Church. Even though the two civilizations were on relatively cordial terms with each other after the Schism (up until the beginning of the Crusades), this only served to further the differences between their religious views, even though many of them were more ceremonious than actually pronounced differences in overall Christian faith, according to Timothy Abeel

As was earlier mentioned, the Byzantine empire had taken on a prominently Greek culture, so it is understandable to think one of their most widely-spoken languages was Greek – especially when also considering they identified as the Greek Orthodox Church. Roman Catholic believers resorted to the native language of the Roman people, that being Latin.

Through the evolution of their leadership structure, the Greek Orthodox Church operates as several different autocephalous bodies around the world, run by those in the position of Patriarch. While the church as a whole recognizes the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Patriarch is by no means a leader of the entirety of the Greek Orthodox Church, rather being dubbed “primus inter pares” (“first among equals”). Whereas in the Roman Catholic leadership structure, the Pope (also known as the Bishop of Rome) is in a superior position to all other bishops and is effectively granted supreme power as he is recognized as the sole Patriarch of the West (divided off after the fracturing of the unified Roman empire, which had previously consisted of five Patriarchs, four of which later resided within the borders of the Byzantine empire).

There are other, minor differences between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox religions. For one, they do not practice inter-Communion between each other; this could potentially be due to the Roman Catholics’ use of unleavened bread as opposed to the Greek Orthodox using leavened bread, among other reasons. Those within the Byzantine empire also emphasized the divine traits of Jesus Christ (while still recognizing his human qualities) while Roman Catholics emphasized the polar opposite in his humanity as opposed to his divinity. Greek Orthodox believers also do not believe in purgatory, the supposed state of being that a soul inhabits after death while still in need of atoning for sins committed in life. One final large difference between Greek Orthodox churches and Roman Catholic churches is that, while Roman Catholic priests are required to take a lifelong vow of celibacy and may never marry throughout their lives, Greek Orthodox priests are allowed to marry before being ordained (though they are not allowed to marry again afterward should a wife precede them in death).

Famous Byzantines

The Byzantine empire, once comprising most of the eastern portions of the Holy Roman empire, broke away (for a number of reasons) and became its own stand-alone civilization, even if it did draw on a lot of inspiration from other peoples. However, their ascension into history would not have been possible were it not for the many figures who managed to stand out among the centuries: prominent rulers and political figures, influential thinkers and iconic artists.

Constantine the Great

Constantine’s first great act came in AD 313 when he issued the Edict of Milan. This proclamation legalized Christian worship throughout the Roman empire, an act which would eventually phase out pagan rituals altogether. Even though his rule was established before the Byzantine empire (in fact, he ruled the western portion of the Roman empire before the eastern), Constantine played a significant role in reuniting the Roman empire (which was ruled by multiple emperors at the time) by defeating Licinius and establishing Christianity as the state religion through the Nicene Creed in AD 325. Constantine was also responsible for the founding of Constantinople, the city that would later serve as the capital of the entirety of the Byzantine empire as well as the center of the later-to-come Orthodox Church.

Justinian I

Undertaking a massive overhaul of construction projects during his 40-year rule, Justinian is likely best known for commissioning what would be the final iteration of the Hagia Sophia among a litany of other churches and structures adding to the fame of the Byzantine empire, as well as being a great patron for Byzantine cultural art in the form of mosaics. He was also responsible for historic military campaigns to reclaim lands previously lost to Germanic invaders, meeting with success as far as Italy and re-establishing Ravenna as a capital. Justinian is also credited with setting the foundation for the modern-day legal system with his Corpus Juris Civilis (“Corpus of Civil Law”). The blemish on his record comes with the Nika riots, an outbreak by the nobility in a vain attempt to overthrow Justinian from power, owing to his modest upbringing. This 9-day period of destruction was one of the main catalysts for rebuilding the Hagia Sophia, a structure that stands to this very day.

Irene of Athens

During an infamous period of Byzantine history known as the Iconoclasm, the veneration of religious figures in the form of idols or artwork featuring their likenesses had been forbidden. This period was initiated by Leo the Isaurian in AD 726 and lasted until 787, when it was revoked by Irene, the acting regent in the stead of her son, Constantine VI upon the death of her husband, Leo IV. Irene reinstated religious iconography and she eventually became the first official Empress of the Byzantine empire following the death of her son in AD 795. Some speculate she was also on the verge of accepting a marriage proposal from Charlemagne after he had declared himself Holy Roman Emperor, which very well might have reunited the whole of Rome and Byzantium into one empire yet again. However, her servants had her deposed and sent to Lesbos before such a marriage could be realized.

Constantine XI Palaiologos

Serving as the last emperor of the Byzantine empire, Constantine XI had succeeded John VIII and oversaw the reoccupation of the Peloponnesus, the first time it had been in the fold of the Byzantine empire in over 200 years. In an effort to muster considerable defenses against a threatening Ottoman empire, Constantine XI finalized a Church union with the Peloponnesus region initialized by his predecessor despite great discord among his subjects on the matter. In the end, little aid came to Constantinople anyway, and Constantine XI died in defense of the city as it came under the rule of the Ottoman Turks, thus officially ending the reign of the Byzantine empire in 1453.