Byzantium – A while ago we brought you the list of Roman Emperors who ruled in the west and were born in modern Slavic lands. You can refresh your memory here if you’ve forgotten how many of them, or what their origins were. This time, however, we’re moving east, to the part of the empire which successfully survived the west by almost 1,000 years. Eastern Roman Empire (also known as Byzantine Empire today) was culturally and economically more sufficient than the Western Empire, hence it managed to delay its downfall for such a prolonged period of time.
Eastern Roman Empire was founded by Constantine the Great in 330 AD, and it lasted until 1453 when its capital Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. What eventually became one of the most powerful empires of the late antiquity and the early middle ages started out as power-sharing experiment. To put it simple, Roman Empire simply became too vast to be governed from Rome alone, so decentralization process started taking place since early as 285 AD. Apart from Constantine I, previous list already mentions the likes of Constantius II, Jovian, Valentinian I, Valens, and Gratian. The reason is the fact that they mostly ruled both in the west and in the east at the time. This list, however, will start with Theodosian dynasty which held the power from late 4th to mid 5th century AD.
Marcian (Flavius Marcianus Augustus)
Marcian was born in 392 AD in Illyricum or Thracia, and was the last emperor from the Theodosian dynasty. He ruled between the summer of 450 AD and January 457 AD which means he was Eastern Roman Emperor while the empire in the west was still in place. While he consolidated the Eastern Empire during his reign, his lack of involvement in affairs of the Western Roman Empire indirectly led to Rome’s downfall.
Leo I “The Thracian” (Flavius Valerius Leo Augustus)
Leo I “The Thracian” was born circa 401 AD, in Dacia Aureliana which then comprised of modern day northwestern Bulgaria and eastern Serbia. He ruled the Eastern Roman Empire between February 7 457 AD and January 18 474 AD. He further consolidated the empire by regaining lost western territories, and will be remembered as the first Roman emperor to have legislated in Greek rather than Latin.
Basilicus (Flavius Basiliscus Augustus)
Like Leo I, Basilicus too belonged to the Leonid dynasty. He was born somewhere in the Balkans region, but it’s not exactly determined when. His reign, however, was determined. He ruled between January 9 475 AD and August 476 AD when he was deposed by Zeno the Isaurian whom was previously deposed by Basilicus himself. Basilicus was described as successful general, but slow of understanding and easy to deceive which probably lead to his downfall as the emperor.
Justin I (Flavius Iustinus Augustus)
Founder of Justinian dynasty during whose reign Byzantine Empire reached its peak, was born circa 450 AD, in Bederiana near Naissus which is modern day Nis (Niš), Serbia. His reign lasted for nine years between July 518 AD and August 1 527 AD. The fact he was illiterate and 70 years old at the time of ascension to the throne obviously didn’t hinder him in establishing one of the most prominent dynasties in Roman history.
Justinian I “The Great” (Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus Augustus)
Born circa 482 AD in Tauresium near modern day village of Taor, 20 kilometers due southeast of Skopje, Macedonia. He was one of the greatest Roman emperors whose ambitious plans of restoring the empire almost succeeded. Apart from reconquering Italy, Spain, Dalmatia and other provinces, Justinian the Great is known for issuing Corpus Juris Civilis which would become the base for modern civil laws. He is also responsible for commissioning the Agia Sophia, then Christian church and now a museum.
Tiberius II Constantine (Flavius Tiberius Constantinus Augustus)
Born somewhere in Thrace (likely modern day Bulgaria) in 520 AD, Tiberius II ruled the Eastern Roman Empire from October 5 578 AD to August 14 582 AD. He succeeded Justin II and implemented much different strategy than his predecessor when it comes to expenditure. He was known as charitable emperor who spared no expense while conducting both internal and external policies.
Phocas (Flavius Phocas Augustus)
Phocas was a non-dynastic emperor who ruled between November 23 602 AD and October 4 610 AD. He was a native of Thrace just like Tiberius II, but little is known of his youth apart from the fact he was born in 547 AD. He was a subaltern in Emperor Maurice’s Balkan army and eventually overthrew his emperor only to become overthrown himself by Heraclius.
This ends the list of Roman emperors born in modern day Slavic lands. Most of the later emperors would be born in Constantinople or other areas of modern day Turkey and other Asia Minor provinces. Only Basil I “The Macedonian” born somewhere in the Theme of Macedonia (province) might have been born in southern Bulgaria, but it’s more likely he was actually born in modern day Greece.