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Flavius Zeno, original name Tarasicodissa or Trascalissaeus, Byzantine Emperor (circa 425 – April 9, 491) was one of the more prominent of the early Byzantine Emperors. Domestic revolts and religious dissension plagued his reign, which nevertheless succeeded to some extent in foreign issues. His reign saw the end of the Western Roman Empire under Julius Nepos and Romulus Augustulus, but he contributed much to stabilizing the eastern Empire.


Military career

Tarasicodissa, as he was known as a young man, was an Isaurian. The Isaurians were a people who lived on the south-western Mediterranean coast of Anatoliamarker, in what is now the coastal Antalya Provincemarker along the south-west corner of modern day Turkeymarker. Like most borderland tribes, they were looked upon as barbarians by the Romans even though they had been Roman subjects for more than two centuries. Still, a fortuitous turn of events ultimately placed Tarasicodissa on the throne in Constantinoplemarker.

Well-known as a warrior, Tarasicodissa caught the eye of the Emperor Leo I in the mid-460s, when Leo was searching for alternatives to using increasingly unreliable Germanic and Alan mercenaries in his army. In 466, Tarasicodissa exposed the treachery of Ardabur, the son of the Alans' eastern magister militum Aspar, and made himself even more indispensable. By 468, when Leo's incompetent (and perhaps treacherous) generals led the Byzantine fleet to disaster in a campaign against the Vandals, Tarasicodissa was considered Leo's best general. While on a campaign in Thrace he narrowly escaped an assassination instigated by Aspar. On Tarasicodissa's return to the capital, Aspar was killed on Leo's orders and Tarasicodissa became magister militum in his own right.

To make himself more acceptable to the Roman hierarchy and the population of Constantinople, Tarasicodissa adopted the name of Zeno and used it for the rest of his life after his marriage to Leo's daughter Ariadne in 468. Although designed by Leo to secure Isaurian support against the aforementioned ambitious minister Aspar, this political arrangement brought them a son who was to become the emperor Leo II upon the death of his grandfather on January 18, 474.

In the meantime, Zeno continued to lead the eastern armies with a great deal of success, most notably in expelling the Vandals from Epirus, which they invaded in 469 as part of King Geiseric's revenge for being attacked a year earlier. He also led troops against incursions by the Huns and Gepids south of the Danube River.


Revolt, flight and restoration

Since Leo II was seven, too young to rule himself, Ariadne and her mother Verina prevailed upon him to crown Zeno, his father, as co-emperor, which he did on February 9, 474. When Leo II became ill and died on November 17, Zeno became sole emperor.

Zeno continued to be unpopular with the people and senate because of his barbarian origins. His mother-in-law Verina and her brother Basiliscus conspired together with a general named Illus to overthrow Zeno in favour of Basiliscus. In January of 475 Zeno was forced to flee Constantinople to Isauria with his wife and mother. Zeno was compelled to shut himself up in a fortress after Basiliscus sent Illus at the head of an army to besiege him there.

While Zeno was being besieged by Illus, Basiliscus managed to make himself extremely unpopular. He alienated his sister by having her lover assassinated, and took some very unpopular decisions regarding church affairs that alienated the clergy and common people.

Zeno spent the next 20 months raising an army, largely made up of fellow Isaurians, and marched on Constantinoplemarker in August 476 after Illus and his army turned against Basiliscus and joined him. The growing misgovernment and unpopularity of Basiliscus ultimately enabled Zeno to re-enter Constantinoplemarker unopposed in 476. His rival was banished to Phrygia, where he soon afterwards died.

The fall of the Western Empire

Restored to rule of the Eastern Empire, Zeno was forced to make a momentous decision within two months when Romulus Augustus was deposed by the Chieftain of the Heruli, Odoacer. Odoacer sent a deputation from the Western senate to Constantinople, where they laid the western insignia of rule before Zeno's feet. "The West, they said, no longer required an Emperor of its own: one monarch sufficed for the world; Odoacer was qualified by his wisdom and courage to be the protector of their state, and upon him Zeno was entreated to confer the title of Patrician and the administration of the Italian provinces." Zeno, recognising this as a fait accompli, accepted the requests; although he made vague protestations that the Western senate should first have turned to the deposed western emperor, Julius Nepos, he formally reunited the Empire and granted Odoacer the title of Patrician. For a time, he left the west to itself; later, when Odoacer began calling himself "King", he began to consider possible solutions to the matter .

Affairs with the Vandals and the Goths

At the same time, Zeno sent a mission to Carthagemarker with the intent of making a permanent peace settlement with Geiseric, who was still making constant raids on eastern cities and merchant shipping. By recognizing Geiseric as an independent king and with the full extent of his conquests, Zeno was able to hammer out a peace which ended the Vandal attacks in the east, brought freedom of religion to the Catholics under Vandal rule, and lasted for more than 50 years.

The aggressions of the two Ostrogoth leaders, Theodoric the Great the son of Theodemir and Theodoric Strabo, had been a constant source of danger since 472. Although Zeno at times contrived to play them off against each other, they in turn were able to profit by his dynastic rivalries. It was only by offering them pay and high command that he kept them from attacking Constantinople itself.

After Theodoric Strabo died in 481, the future Theodoric the Great became king of the entire Ostrogoth nation and began to be a source of trouble in the Balkan peninsula. Zeno got rid of the problem in 487 by inducing him to invade Italy to fight Odoacer, who allegedly supported the usurper Leontius, and to establish his new kingdom there. This all but eliminated the Germanic presence in the east.

More intrigues

Zeno survived another revolt in 478, when his mother-in-law Verina attempted to kill Illus for turning against Basiliscus, her brother. The revolt was led by her son-in-law Marcian and the Ostrogoth warlord Theodoric Strabo, but Illus again proved his loyalty to Zeno by quashing the revolt. Illus and Zeno had a falling out by 484, however, and once again Zeno had to put down a bloody revolt in the east.

Death and succession

He died on April 9, 491, after ruling for 17 years and 2 months. Because he and Ariadne had no other children, his widow chose a favoured member of the imperial court, Anastasius, to succeed him.

Popular legend has it that a voice was heard coming from his grave for three days after he died, suggesting that he was buried alive, but that he was too unpopular with the people for anyone to open the grave and try to rescue him.

Opinions on Zeno

Zeno is described as a lax and indolent ruler, but he seems to have husbanded the resources of the empire so as to leave it appreciably stronger at his death.

In ecclesiastical history, Zeno is associated with the Henoticon or "instrument of union", promulgated by him and signed by all the Eastern bishops, with the design of solving the monophysite controversy.


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