Were There Voters In The Byzantine Empire?

The Byzantine Empire is another name for the “Eastern Roman Empire,” which continued to survive and thrive after the Western Roman Empire fell — and most people know that at least a few rungs of society had voting rights during the heights of the Roman Empire. So did those voting rights continue during the Byzantine Empire? The answer is complicated. The short answer is “yes,” because it inherited most of its structure from the west.

The Byzantine Empire was sometimes described as a Republican Absolute Monarchy. What exactly does that mean? Well, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s simply a combination of other forms of government that have meaning. For example, a Republican government — like the United States — occurs when a country’s people, lands, and wealth is not the property of its rulers but of its people. Republican is just another way of saying that the public has a stake in their government.

And that’s where it gets confusing when we add the words “absolute monarchy,” which describes a government controlled almost entirely by a single person. That means that there are no checks and balances to keep this one person from acquiring too much power — because he (or rarely, she) already has all of it at his fingertips. Kings (or monarchs) are almost never elected. Mostly, they acquire power through dynasty or bloodline.

However, in the case of the Byzantine Empire — “emperors” were still technically elected. But voting rights were granted only to those serving in the Senate and the Army. The decline in the Senate’s power pretty much handed all elective authority over to the Army. Because emperors had all the power of an absolute monarch, though, they usually managed to sway the “voters” into making the decision they desired — which meant that one emperor had a lot of say in the line of succession, and family members almost always succeeded the throne.