Zenon (emperor)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Solidus of Zeno

Zenon , Greek Ζήνων , Latin Flavius ​​Zeno , († April 9, 491 ), was the (Eastern) Roman Emperor from January 29, 474 until his death . As sole ruler, he ruled from (17?) November 474, interrupted by a 20-month exile from January 475 to August 476.

Popular uprisings and religious wing battles shaped his reign, but with great difficulty he succeeded in stabilizing the Roman East. Foreign policy he was quite successful and was able to keep peace with the Sassanids . During his reign, the Western Roman Empire was abolished (476 and 480), making Zenon de iure sole emperor in the Roman Empire .


The early years leading up to the accession to the throne

Tarasicodissa (or Trascalissaeus ), as it was known before his reign, was a member of the Isaurian tribe who lived in Isauria in the southwestern Anatolian mountainous country. The Romans regarded this “wild mountain people” as barbarians , although they had already had Roman citizenship for over two centuries and were members of the Roman Empire . The frequently found claim that Tarasicodissa was an Isaurian "chief" is an assumption of modern research that has no support whatsoever in the sources (Croke 2005). Rather, he was probably one of many Roman soldiers of Isaurian origin who served the Eastern Roman emperors at that time. His father, Flavius ​​Zeno , had already risen to the top and in 448 even held the consulate .

The Eastern Roman Emperor Leo I noticed Tarasicodissa when he presented 466 papers that made Ardaburius, the son of the powerful army master Aspar , suspected of treason. In order to make himself more independent from Aspar, the emperor now relied on Tarasicodissa as a counterweight and slowly initiated the disempowerment of the magister militum , to which he originally owed his throne. Two years later, Tarasicodissa, who now called himself Zeno (after his father or another Isaur who had held high offices around 440), was already considered the most capable general of Leo. While he is said to have led a successful campaign in Thrace (in which he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt), his domestic political adversaries sank almost the entire fleet of the empire in battle with the Vandals in 468 when West and East Romans tried together in vain to recapture the African provinces . Leo had Aspar removed in 471, and when Tarasicodissa returned to the capital, he was promoted to magister militum . In addition, he was allowed to marry Leo's daughter Ariadne . Even if Leo had only planned all of this to secure relationships with the new strong man, this connection resulted in a son who, as Leo II, succeeded his grandfather in 474. Leo I seems to have refused to raise Zeno as emperor under pressure from the population, who questioned Zeno's orthodoxy. In order to gain greater acceptance among the Roman elites and more support from the largely Greek population of the Eastern Empire, Tarasicodissa now officially adopted the Greek name Zenon (Zeno in Latin). Whether he was actually, as the older research assumed, the leader of an "Isauri party" in Constantinople is now doubted.

Zenon supposedly led the Eastern Roman armies from success to success as a general: he drove the Vandals under King Geiseric out of Epirus and drove the Huns and Gepids out of the areas south of the Danube - although it is unclear how much these successes were exaggerated by imperial propaganda.

Eleven days after the death of Leo I, Zenon was crowned co-regent as Augustus by his wife Ariadne and the emperor's widow Verina , because the little son was still too young. When Leo II died in November 474, his father assumed sole rule.

Zeno as emperor

Solidus Odoakers , minted in the name of Zenon.

Zeno was not accepted by the people and the elites because of the questionable legitimacy of his rule; revolts broke out. His mother-in-law Verina allegedly forged a plot to bring her brother Basiliscus , who had been the admiral in charge of the failed expedition to Africa in 468, to the throne, which they succeeded in January 475. Basiliscus was the exponent of the traditional aristocracy, which Zeno had never considered a worthy emperor. Zenon and his likewise unpopular Isaurian soldiers had to leave Constantinople first and fled to Antioch on the Orontes in Syria . He was forced to remain in exile for the next 20 months and used that time to build an army. The mismanagement and the growing unpopularity of the basiliscus with the army made it possible for Zeno to retake Constantinople in August 476 without resistance after another army under General Illus had defected to him and Armatus , the nephew of basiliscus, had changed sides . Basiliscus was exiled to Phrygia or Cappadocia , where he died shortly afterwards. Zeno made Armate's son, Basiliscus the Younger , Caesar under the name Leo in the autumn of 476 , but removed him again the following year and put him in the priestly robe; He had Armatus killed.

Immediately after the restoration of his rule, Zeno was forced to make a momentous decision: Odoacer , the commander of the federated troops of Italy, had deposed Romulus Augustulus , the powerless last emperor of West Rome (whom Basiliscus had recognized), in early September 476, and asked for recognition as official representative of the emperor, from now on as rex Italiae to command the foederati and at the same time to govern Italy in the name of Zenon. Zenon pointed out that there was still a legitimate western emperor, namely Julius Nepos , who was expelled from Italy in 475 and whom Odoacer should turn to. But at the same time he addressed him in his answer as patricius ; this title had established itself in the West in the decades before as a mark of the de facto head of government, although it is disputed whether Zeno was aware of this.

In 480 Julius Nepos died in Dalmatia, and Zenon was henceforth emperor of all of Rome. However, in view of the weakness of his own position in contrast to Leo I, he initially actually wrote off most of the western regions when, after a few years, Odoacer no longer adhered to the agreements: Zenon was probably the Eastern Roman emperor with the least interest in the West. Above all, however, this corresponded to a realistic assessment of the situation: The failed war against the Vandals in 468 had emptied the Eastern Roman treasury, and in view of the threat on several fronts and internal rebellions, Zenon simply did not have the necessary resources to be active in the West become. Ironically, it was precisely this concentration on Eastern Era that led to the empire gaining internal strength in the long term so that it could later try to regain the lost territories (partially successful) under Justinian .

Since 472, the Ostrogoths in the Balkans grew into an ever increasing threat. Their rival leaders Theodoric the Great and Theoderich Strabo forced Zeno to give them high dignity in order to prevent them from attacking Constantinople or from taking advantage of the dynastic confusion around Zeno. Nevertheless, Theoderich Strabo was involved in another conspiracy surrounding Verina , which, led by his brother-in-law Marcianus , aimed at the death of General Illus. In 479 the loyal Illus put down this revolt. As a result of a dispute about Zenon's younger brother Flavius ​​Longinus , Illus was declared an enemy of the state in 483, which he responded with open rebellion and the proclamation of Leontius as counter-emperor (484) in Cilicia . The uprising was not put down until 488 after four years of civil war, with Illus being killed.

Since the death of Theoderich Strabo in 481, Theoderich, the son of Thiudimir , was the sole warlord and rex of the federated Goths and became an increasing threat in the Balkans . Zeno got rid of this problem by appointing him patricius in 488 and sending him with his warriors to "liberate" Italy from the rule of Odoacer. Theodoric triumphed after a four-year struggle and built up the Ostrogothic empire there, which was formally subordinate to Ostrom (Zenon did not experience the victory over Odoacer). Because with all the concentration on the East and Zenon stopped at the idea of a united Roman Empire established - even if a large part of this empire is largely under the "Administration" Romano-barbarian warlords ( warlords was).

Zenon may also have more intensive contacts with the West. Numerous gold coins that were minted during the reign of Zeno were found in 1653 in the grave of the Frankish rex Childerich I , who operated in northern Gaul in the 460s and 470s. It is possible, although ultimately unprovable, that this was a matter of Eastern Roman aid payments to the Frankish king. Researchers like Patrick J. Geary assume that Zenon was connected to Childeric through a foedus .

From their empire in North Africa, the Vandals still ravaged the Mediterranean by looting cities and pirating . Zeno therefore sent a delegation to Carthage as early as 474 to recognize Geiseric as a de facto independent ruler through a foedus and to guarantee him the legality of his conquests. The aged Geiseric accepted, and this peace lasted for over half a century - however, according to the Eastern Roman interpretation, it was exclusively bound to Geiseric and his rightful successors. In 491, the year Zeno's death, the Vandals also intervened militarily in Italy.

With the Persian Sassanid Empire , the great rival in the east, Zeno, like his predecessor, was able to keep peace, although relations seem to have deteriorated considerably when the emperor fought and lost the battle death of the great king Peroz I in 484 against the Hunnic Hephthalites tried to take advantage of it to force the Persians to surrender the important city of Nisibis . Despite their temporary weakness, the Persians refused to do so, and their king Kavadh I demanded tributes from the Romans in return - after all, this development led to war under Zenon's successor Anastasius (see below).

In terms of religious policy, Zeno initiated a persecution of pagans in Alexandria in the eighties of the 5th century , which was aimed primarily at pagan philosophy teachers. The well-known pagan philosopher Horapollon was tortured and later converted to Christianity, though allegedly on his own initiative. A Samaritan uprising under Justasas in Palestine was put down in 484. Zeno tried to find a compromise with the Monophysites : The controversial resolutions of the Council of Chalcedon (451), which had caused bitter controversy for years, should simply be hushed up. However, this compromise, which was formulated in the Henoticon , led to a break with Rome and the so-called Akakian schism (484 to 519), without bringing about an agreement with the Monophysites. The emperor hadn't been able to please either side and had only made the quarrel worse.

Zenon died on April 9, 491, and since he had long outlived his only child, his wife Ariadne took a leading member of the court, Flavius ​​Anastasius , as husband and successor in imperial dignity. Zenon's brother Flavius ​​Longinus, who also had ambitions, was left behind and was passed over (even in late antiquity, the empire was not formally hereditary).

Zeno, under whom the Eastern Roman Empire went through a phase of crisis due to the questionable legitimacy of his rule, is often described in the sources as a rather weak and negligent ruler, but in the end he stabilized the empire and the imperial position lastingly, and it was when he died probably far more powerful than before - however, it should be left to Anastasius to violently break the influence of the Isaurians and the military and to make the emperor again the truly sovereign ruler of the empire.


  • Peter Crawford: The Roman Emperor Zeno. The Perils of Power Politics in Fifth-Century Constantinople . Pen & Sword, Barnsley 2019.
  • Brian Croke: Dynasty and Ethnicity: Emperor Leo I. and the Eclipse of Aspar . In: Chiron 35, 2005, pp. 147-203.
  • Karl field: Barbarian citizens: The Isaurians and the Roman Empire. De Gruyter , Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-11-018899-6 (= Millennium Studies, Volume 8).
  • Arnold Hugh Martin Jones : The Later Roman Empire 284-602. A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey. Blackwell, Oxford 1964 (3 volumes, reprinted in 2 volumes 1986), pp. 224-230.
  • Rafał Kosiński: The Emperor Zeno. Religion and Politics. Krakow 2010, ISBN 978-83-62261-18-5 (= Byzantina et Slavica Cracoviensia, 6).
  • Adolf Lippold : Zenon 17. In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen antiquity (RE). Volume XA, Stuttgart 1972, Col. 149-213.
  • Gregor Weber: Zeno. In: Manfred Clauss (Ed.): The Roman Emperors. 55 historical portraits from Caesar to Justinian. Beck, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-406-42727-8 , pp. 412-415.

Web links

Commons : Flavius ​​Zeno  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
predecessor Office successor
Leo II Eastern Roman Emperor
Anastasios I.