How Many Emperors Sat On The Throne Through Usurpation?

Usurper. It’s an undeniably cool word. History buffs around the world are obsessed with the intricacies of history, some of which led to outcomes that were never expected. In the history of the United States, how many usurpations of power have occurred? If you ask modern-day Republicans, there was just one — when Biden “stole” the election from former president Donald Trump. But of course that’s nonsense. We’ve had exactly zero usurpations of presidential authority in the United States.

Is that a testament to the quality of our own government? It’s a tough question to answer, especially at a time when so many people believe that our government cannot be trusted. This is the sentiment no matter which side of the aisle you land on. 

The best way to figure out the answer to that question might be to first decide where the bar is. We could look to the Roman Empire, which stood far longer than our own country has. We could look to the Byzantine Empire, which has accomplished the same. Since this website is called ByzConf for a reason, let’s start there.

How many emperors sat on the throne through usurpation in the Byzantine Empire? Let’s start with the number of unsuccessful attempts to perform the coup d’etat, something that either works perfectly on the first try — or doesn’t work at all. From the year 395 AD until 1453 AD, there were exactly 48 attempts that didn’t quite manage to follow through. That tells us something critical about the Byzantine Empire right away: it was filled with social and political strife from start to finish.

Add to that number the 26 emperors who sat the throne through a successful coup, and you can see that it got quite bad. And that probably answers our earlier question, too. The United States might not be perfect, but our government is nowhere near as bad as it gets.