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Counter-emperors are rulers who claimed the status of an emperor even though a holder of the throne was already in office. From the point of view of the already ruling emperor, a counter-emperor was a usurper , that is, someone who illegally usurped power. Counter-emperors occurred mainly in the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire , but also in the Empire of China .

In the Roman Empire and in Byzantium, opposing emperors were raised by various groups, such as guard troops or (more often) troops in the provinces. Some surveys were also limited locally, so that there was not necessarily a nationwide power struggle. While some opposing emperors were quickly murdered by their own supporters or defeated by loyal troops, others were able to assert themselves for a long time or even gain power completely and thus rule as legitimate emperors. In the course of such surveys there were sometimes internal crises, for example in the first and second four-emperor years. During the imperial crisis of the 3rd century , there were several rapid changes of emperors, which destabilized the empire considerably, especially around 260.

In late antiquity , usurpations were more threatening in the West than in the Eastern Empire, until West Rome - in whose areas local rulers were established who did not reach for the imperial dignity and are therefore sometimes referred to as " warlords " in recent research - 476 perished. The often failed usurpers were called tyranni in the late antique sources (see also Tyrannis ). In the period that followed, byzantium continued to be raised by opposing emperors. This did not necessarily destabilize the empire, the sometimes very tense foreign policy situation was often more threatening; Particularly problematic, however, was the simultaneous appearance of opposing emperors and heightened threats at the borders (such as from Arabs, Bulgarians, Turks and other external enemies).