Guide to the Byzantine Empire Emperors - A Historic Journey

Guide to the Byzantine Empire Emperors – A Historic Journey

The Byzantine Empire, with its capital in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), was a prominent power in the Eastern Mediterranean for over a millennium. The emperors of the Byzantine Empire were central figures in shaping its history, culture, and identity.

We will take you on a journey through time, exploring the lives and legacies of the Byzantine emperors. From the founding of the empire to its fall, we will highlight the significant contributions of each emperor and their impact on the empire.

Join us as we delve into the chronological order of Byzantine emperors, explore notable emperors such as Justinian I and Constantine the Great, and examine the unique system of imperial succession. Discover the role of emperors in art and literature and the lasting legacies they left in politics, religion, and culture.

Get ready for a historic journey that will take you deep into the heart of the Byzantine Empire and its emperors. Let’s begin with an overview of the Byzantine Empire and its rulers.

Overview of the Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire was a continuation of the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean region, which had its capital in Constantinople. The empire lasted for over a thousand years, from 330 to 1453, and was known for its rich culture, art, and architecture. The Byzantine Empire was ruled by a series of emperors who held absolute power and were considered both the head of state and the head of the church. These emperors were instrumental in shaping the political, social, and economic fabric of the empire.

The Byzantine Empire rulers were not just political leaders but also cultural icons. They played a pivotal role in preserving ancient Greek and Roman knowledge and disseminated it throughout the empire. Additionally, the Byzantine Empire was a melting pot of various cultures and religions, and emperors were responsible for maintaining harmony among these groups.

The empire’s geographical extent was vast, covering much of southeastern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. Under the Byzantine emperors, the empire faced numerous challenges, including invasions from foreign powers, economic instability, and political crises. However, the empire managed to survive for centuries due to the military prowess of its emperors and their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Chronological Order of Byzantine Emperors

The Byzantine Empire spanned over a thousand years, and during that time, it had a total of 88 emperors. Here is a chronological list of the Byzantine emperors, starting from the founding of the empire until its fall:

  1. Constantine I (324-337)
  2. Constantine II (337-340)
  3. Constans I (337-350)
  4. Constantius II (337-361)
  5. Julian the Apostate (361-363)
  6. Jovian (363-364)
  7. Valentinian I (364-375)
  8. Theodosius I (379-395)
  9. Arcadius (395-408)
  10. Theodosius II (408-450)
  11. Marcian (450-457)
  12. Leo I the Thracian (457-474)
  13. Leo II (474)
  14. Zeno (474-491)
  15. Anastasius I (491-518)
  16. Justin I (518-527)
  17. Justinian I (527-565)
  18. Justin II (565-578)
  19. Tiberius II Constantine (578-582)
  20. Maurice (582-602)
  21. Phocas (602-610)
  22. Heraclius (610-641)
  23. Constantine III (641)
  24. Constans II (641-668)
  25. Constantine IV (668-685)
  26. Justinian II (685-695)
  27. Leontios (695-698)
  28. Tiberios III (698-705)
  29. Justinian II (705-711)
  30. Philippikos (711-713)
  31. Anastasios II (713-715)
  32. Theodosios III (715-717)
  33. Leo III the Isaurian (717-741)
  34. Constantine V (741-775)
  35. Leo IV the Khazar (775-780)
  36. Constantine VI (780-797)
  37. Irene (797-802)
  38. Nikephoros I (802-811)
  39. Staurakios (811)
  40. Michael I Rangabe (811-813)
  41. Leo V the Armenian (813-820)
  42. Michael II (820-829)
  43. Theophilos (829-842)
  44. Michael III (842-867)
  45. Basil I the Macedonian (867-886)
  46. Leo VI the Wise (886-912)
  47. Alexander (912-913)
  48. Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (913-959)
  49. Romanos I Lekapenos (919-944)
  50. Constantine VIII (960-1028)
  51. Romanos II (959-963)
  52. Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969)
  53. John I Tzimiskes (969-976)
  54. Basil II (976-1025)
  55. Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1055)
  56. Theodora (1055-1056)
  57. Michael VI Bringas (1056-1057)
  58. Isaac I Comnenus (1057-1059)
  59. Constantine X Doukas (1059-1067)
  60. Romanos IV Diogenes (1068-1071)
  61. Michael VII Doukas (1071-1078)
  62. Nicephorus III Botaneiates (1078-1081)
  63. Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118)
  64. John II Komnenos (1118-1143)
  65. Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180)
  66. Alexios II Komnenos (1180-1183)
  67. Andronikos I Komnenos (1183-1185)
  68. Isaac II Angelos (1185-1195)
  69. Alexios III Angelos (1195-1203)
  70. Isaac II Angelos (restored) (1203-1204)
  71. Alexios IV Angelos (1203-1204)
  72. Nikephoros III Vatatzes (1222-1254)
  73. John III Doukas Vatatzes (1221-1254)
  74. Theodore II Laskaris (1254-1258)
  75. John IV Laskaris (1258-1261)
  76. Michael VIII Palaiologos (1259-1282)
  77. Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328)
  78. Andronikos III Palaiologos (1328-1341)
  79. John V Palaiologos (1341-1376)
  80. John VI Kantakouzenos (1347-1354)
  81. John V Palaiologos (restored) (1379-1391)
  82. Manuel II Palaiologos (1391-1425)
  83. John VIII Palaiologos (1425-1448)
  84. Constantine XI Palaiologos (1449-1453)

The Byzantine emperors made significant contributions to the empire during their reigns, shaping its political, social, and religious landscape. Their legacy remains a crucial part of world history and continues to influence modern-day culture.

Notable Byzantine Emperors

The Byzantine Empire was ruled by a series of emperors who left their mark on history in many ways. Here, we explore some of the most famous and notable Byzantine emperors.

Justinian I

Justinian I, also known as Justinian the Great, ruled from 527 to 565 CE and is remembered for his extensive military campaigns, architectural projects, and legal reforms. Under his rule, the Byzantine Empire reached its greatest territorial extent, and he was responsible for commissioning the Hagia Sophia, one of the most impressive architectural achievements in history. Justinian is also known for codifying Roman law in the Corpus Juris Civilis, which served as a legal foundation for much of Europe for centuries to come.

Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great, who ruled from 306 to 337 CE, is credited with converting the Roman Empire to Christianity and moving the capital from Rome to Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople (now Istanbul). His impact on Christianity and the Byzantine Empire is immeasurable. He commissioned many important works of art and architecture during his reign, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which is believed to be built over the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Basil II

Basil II, also known as Basil the Bulgar-Slayer, ruled from 976 to 1025 CE and is remembered for his military campaigns against the Bulgarian Empire, from which he earned his nickname. Basil II also instituted important legal reforms, including the creation of a new legal code that helped to stabilize the Byzantine Empire after a period of unrest. He is also remembered for his patronage of the arts and his commissioning of important works of literature and history.

  • Other notable Byzantine emperors include:
  • Leo III banned the use of icons in the Byzantine Empire, sparking the Iconoclastic Controversy
  • Heraclius, who successfully defended the Byzantine Empire against Persian and Arab invasions
  • Manuel I Komnenos, who oversaw a period of cultural and economic revival in the Byzantine Empire

Each of these emperors left their mark on history and played an important role in shaping the Byzantine Empire and its subsequent influence on world history.

Byzantine Empire Emperors Timeline

The Byzantine Empire was ruled by a plethora of emperors throughout its history. Below is a timeline of the most significant and notable emperors, along with key events and developments during their reigns.

Founding of the Byzantine Empire (324-395)

  • Constantine the Great (324-337): Founder of the Byzantine Empire, he established Constantinople as the new capital and promoted Christianity.
  • Theodosius I (379-395): The last emperor to govern both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, he established Christianity as the official religion of the realm.

The Golden Age of the Byzantine Empire (527-1025)

  • Justinian I (527-565): Best known for his legal reforms and monumental building projects, including the construction of the Hagia Sophia.
  • Empress Theodora (527-548): Wife of Justinian I, she was a powerful and influential empress who championed women’s rights.
  • Basil II (976-1025): Nicknamed the “Bulgar Slayer,” he expanded the empire’s territory and strengthened its military might.

The Decline and Fall of the Byzantine Empire (1025-1453)

  • Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118): Reversed the decline of the empire and established the Komnenos dynasty.
  • Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180): A patron of the arts and a successful military commander, he worked to strengthen the empire’s relations with the West.
  • Constantine XI Palaiologos (1449-1453): The last Byzantine emperor, he fought valiantly against the Ottoman Empire during the siege of Constantinople in 1453.

This timeline provides a glimpse into the rich and complex history of the Byzantine Empire, showcasing the pivotal role that emperors played in shaping its destiny.

Legacy of the Byzantine Emperors

The Byzantine emperors left a lasting legacy on the world, impacting art, religion, architecture, law, and political institutions. Byzantine Empire leaders were influential figures who shaped the course of history and left behind a rich cultural heritage.

The Byzantine Empire was known for its intricate art and architecture, and the emperors played a crucial role in promoting these cultural achievements. The emperors invested heavily in public works, commissioning beautiful buildings and monumental art pieces that remained unrivaled for centuries.

The Byzantine emperors were also instrumental in shaping religion and the Church. The Byzantine Empire was one of the few states in the world in which the emperor played a direct role in ecclesiastical affairs. Byzantine emperors were responsible for appointing the patriarch of Constantinople and other high-ranking church officials, and the emperors’ religious policies had a significant impact on the development of Christianity.

The Byzantine emperors were also responsible for numerous legal and political reforms. The Justinian Code, enacted by Emperor Justinian I, was one of the most significant legal documents in history, providing a comprehensive legal framework that influenced legal systems in Europe, the Middle East, and beyond. Byzantine emperors were also responsible for shaping political institutions, creating a complex system of government that was unparalleled in its time.

Overall, the legacy of the Byzantine emperors is one of cultural and intellectual achievement, as well as political and legal innovation. The Byzantine Empire was a powerful and sophisticated state, and the emperors played a central role in shaping its success and enduring legacy.

Byzantine Emperors in Art and Literature

The Byzantine emperors were not only powerful rulers but also important cultural and religious figures. Their image and legacy have been immortalized in various forms of art and literature throughout history. Byzantine emperors were often depicted in mosaics, sculptures, and manuscripts, showcasing their power and authority.

The most famous Byzantine emperor, Justinian I, is often depicted wearing a crown and royal robes, with a halo around his head to denote his divine status. The mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, provide a vivid portrayal of Justinian I and his wife, Theodora, showcasing their power and regal demeanor.

Other notable Byzantine emperors, such as Constantine the Great and Basil II, were also depicted in art and literature, with sculptures, coins, and manuscripts showcasing their achievements and military prowess. The reign of Basil II is often referred to as the “Golden Age” of the Byzantine Empire, and his image has been immortalized in various works of art.

The literary works of the Byzantine era also portray emperors as significant figures. The epic poem “Digenis Akritas” recounts the story of a heroic Byzantine warrior defending the empire’s borders. At the same time, the “Alexiad” by Anna Komnene, the daughter of Emperor Alexios I, provides an insider’s view of political and military events during her father’s reign.

The symbolic importance of Byzantine emperors is evident in their artistic and literary portrayal. They served as the embodiment of the empire’s power and authority, and their image and legacy have continued to inspire artists and writers throughout history.

Byzantine Emperors and Succession

The Byzantine Empire had a unique system of imperial succession, which varied over the centuries. Succession was often complicated by competing claims to the throne, internal power struggles, and foreign invasions. The Byzantines had both elective and hereditary aspects to the system of succession.


One of the unique features of the Byzantine system was the concept of co-emperors, in which two or more individuals shared the imperial title and powers. This system was introduced in the 4th century and became more common in the 6th century. Co-emperors were often appointed to ensure the smooth succession of power and to allow for a division of labor.


In cases where the emperor was too young or too ill to rule, a regent was appointed to govern in their stead. This regent was often a senior member of the imperial family or a trusted advisor. The regent would make decisions on behalf of the emperor and prepare them for the responsibilities of the throne.

Dynastic Alliances

The Byzantines also relied heavily on dynastic alliances to maintain rule. This practice involved marrying the emperor’s children to members of other ruling families to create political and military alliances. The children of these alliances were often groomed for positions of power within the empire, ensuring a steady supply of competent rulers.

Overall, the Byzantine system of succession was complex and often involved political intrigue and violence. However, it was also flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances and helped maintain the stability of the empire for centuries. The emperors played a central role in this system, serving as both the symbols and the architects of Byzantine power.


Exploring the Byzantine Empire emperors has been a historic journey through a fascinating period in human civilization. The emperors played a central role in shaping the politics, culture, and religion of their time, leaving a lasting legacy that still resonates today.

From the founding of the Byzantine Empire to its fall, we have seen a succession of emperors who brought significant changes, both positive and negative, to the empire. We have examined the lives of several notable emperors, including Justinian I, Constantine the Great, and Basil II, and explored their contributions to the Byzantine Empire.

Through the Byzantine Empire emperors’ timeline, we have visualized the progress of the empire and how emperors succeeded each other. We have also seen how the emperors’ influence extended beyond their reigns, shaping the art, literature, and political institutions of the Byzantine Empire and other civilizations that followed.

The unique system of imperial succession in the Byzantine Empire has presented many challenges but also opportunities for innovation and reform. Examining the succession of emperors has given us a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics of power and politics in the Byzantine Empire.

In conclusion, the Byzantine Empire emperors left a lasting impact on the world, and their legacy is still relevant today. Understanding their contributions and legacies is essential to our appreciation of the history and culture of the Byzantine Empire and its influence on subsequent civilizations.