Byzantine Imperial Court

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Byzantine court

The Byzantine imperial court, and court names, have roots back to the Roman Empire. Through time the names and some of the titles may have changed but one thing is certain the Byzantine emperor was at the top of the imperial pyramid. During certain periods of Byzantine history the term Caesar (kaisar) was used to denote an heir apparent to the throne.[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Emperors of Constantinople

  • Constantinian Dynasty (324 to 363)
  • 324 to 353 Constantine the Great
  • 353 to 361 Constantius Son of Constantine the Great
  • 361 to 363 Julian the Apostate Cousin of Constantius
  • Non-Dynastic
  • 363 to 364 Jovian who was a solider chosen on the battlefield
  • 364 to 378 Valens brother of Western Emperor Valentinian
  • Theodosian Dynasty (379 to 457)
  • 379 to 395 Theodosius I the great solider chosen by Western Emperor Gratian
  • 395 to 408 Arcadius son of Theodosius
  • 408 to 450 Theodosius the II son of Arcadius
  • 450 to 457 Marcian married to Theodosius II's sister
  • Leonoid Dynasty (457 to 518)
  • 457 to 474 Leo I the Thracian solider chosen by Eastern general Aspar
  • 474 Leo II grandson of Leo I
  • 474 to 475 Zeno son-in-law of Leo I
  • 475 to 476 Basciliscus, usurper, brother-in-law of Leo I
  • 476 to 491 Zeno (this is correct)
  • 491 to 518 Anastasius I son-in-law of Leo I
  • Justinian Dynasty (527 to 602)
  • 518 to 527 Justin I commander of the palace guard
  • 527 to 565 Justinian I the Great nephew of Justin I
  • 565 to 578 Justin II nephew of Justinian
  • 578 to 582 Tiberius II adopted by Justin II
  • 582 to 602 Maurice son-in-law of Tiberius II
  • Non-Dynastic
  • 602 to 610 Phocas, usurper, solider of Maurice
  • Heraclius Dynasty (610 to 711)
  • 610 to 641 Heraclius, usurper, general from Carthage
  • 641 Constantine III, son of Heraclius son of Constantine III
  • 641 Heraclonas
  • 641 to 668 Constans II the Bearded
  • 668 to 685 Constantine IV son of Constans II
  • 685 to 695 Justinian II the Slit-Nosed, son of Constantine IV
  • 695 to 698 Leontius, usurper, solider of Justinian II
  • 698 to 705 Tiberius III, usurper, Germanic naval officer of Leontius
  • 705 to 711 Justinian II (this is correct)
  • Non-Dynastic
  • 711 to 713 Philippicus, usurper, Armenian solider of Justinian II
  • 713 to 715 Anastasius II, usurper, imperial secretary of Philippicus
  • 715 to 717 Theodosius III, usurper, tax collector and son (?) of Tiberius III
  • Isaurian Dynasty (717 to 802)
  • 717 to 741 Leo II the Isaurian, usurper, Syrian diplomat of Justinian II
  • 741 to 775 Constantine V the Dung-Named son of Leo III
  • 775 to 780 Leo IV the Khazar, son-in-law of Leo III
  • 780 to 797 Constantine VI the Blinded son of Leo IV
  • 797 to 802 Irene the Athenian, wife of Leo IV, mother of Constantine VI
  • Nicephorous Dynasty (802 to 813)
  • 802 to 811 Nicephorous I, usurper, finance minister of Irene
  • 811 Stauracis, son of Nicephorus I
  • 811 to 813 Michael I Rangabe, son-in-law of Nicephorus I
  • Non-Dynastic
  • 813 to 820 Leo V the Armenian, patrician and general of Micahel I
  • Amorian Dynasty
  • 820 to 829 Michael II the Stammerer, son-in-law of Constantine VI
  • 829 to 842 Theophilus son of Michael the II
  • 842 to 855 Theodora, wife of Theophilus
  • 842 to 867 Michael III the Drunkard, son of Theophilus
  • Macedonian Dynasty (867 to 1056)
  • 867 to 886 Basil I, the Macedonian, Armenian peasant, married Michael III's widow
  • 886 to 912 Leo VI the Wise, son of Basil I or Michael III
  • 912 to 913 Alexander, son of Basil the I
  • 913 to 959 Constantine VII the Purple-Born, son of Leo VI
  • 959 to 963 Romanus II the Purple-Born, son of Contantine VII
  • 963 to 969 Nicephorus II, Phocas general, married Romanus II's widow
  • 969 to 976 John I, Tzimisces, usurper, nephew of Nicephorus II
  • 976 to 1025 Basil II, the Bulgar-Slayer, son of Romanus II
  • 1025 to 1028 Constantine VIII, son of Romanus II
  • 1028 to 1050 Zoe, daughter of Constantine VIII
  • 1028 to 1034 Romanus III Argyrus, Zoe's first husband
  • 1034 to 1041 Michael IV the Paphlagonian, Zoe's second husband
  • 1041 to 1042 Michael V the Caulker, Zoe's adopted son
  • 1042 Zoe and Theodora, daughters of Constanstine VIII
  • 1042 to 1055 Constantine IX, Monomachus, Zoe's third husband
  • 1055 to 1056 Theodora (this is correct)
  • Non-Dynastic
  • 1056 to 1057 Michael VI the Old, chosen by Theodora
  • 1057 to 1059 Isaac I Comnenus, usurper, general of Michael VI
  • Ducas Dynasty (1059 to 1081)
  • 1059 to 1067 Constantine X chosen by Isaac
  • 1067 to 1071 Romanus Diogenes married Constantine X's widow
  • 1071 to 1078 Micahel VII the Quarter-Short, son of Constantine X
  • 1078 to 1081 Nicephorus III Botaneiates, usurper, general of Michael VII
  • Comnenian Dynasty (1081 to 1185)
  • 1081 to 1118 Alexius I, usurper, nephew of Isaac I
  • 1118 to 1143 John II the Beautiful, son of Alexius I
  • 1141 to 1180 Manuel I the Great, son of John II
  • 1080 to 1183 Alexius II, son of Manual I
  • 1183 to 1185 Andronicus the Terrible, usurper, cousin of Manuel I
  • Angelius Dynasty ((1185 to 1204)
  • 1185 to 1195 Isaac II, Angelus, great-grandson of Alexius I
  • 1195 to 1203 Alexius III, Angelus, brother of Isaac II
  • 1203 to 1204 Isaac I, this is correct, and son of Alexius IV

[6] [7] The following information is from Wikipedia. Sources for the Wikipedia article, which are reputable, give the following details.

Imperial titles

  • Basileus (βασιλεύς): the Greek word for "sovereign" which originally referred to any king in the Greek-speaking areas of the Roman Empire. It also referred to the emperors of Persia. Heraclius adopted it to replace the old Latin title of Augustus (Greek form Augoustos) in 629, and it became the Greek word for "emperor." Heraclius also used the titles autokrator (αὑτοκράτωρ — "autocrat," "self-ruler") and kyrios (κύριος — "lord"). The Byzantines reserved the term "basileus" among Christian rulers exclusively for the emperor in Constantinople, and referred to Western European kings as rēgas, a Hellenized form of the Latin word rex ("king"). The feminine form basilissa referred to an empress. Empresses were addressed as eusebestatē avgousta ("Most Pious Augusta"), and were also called kyria ("Lady") or despoina (the female form of "despotes", see below).
  • Porphyrogennētos (πορφυρογέννητος) — "born-in-the-purple": Emperors wanting to emphasize the legitimacy of their ascent to the throne appended this title to their names, meaning they were born in the delivery room of the imperial palace (called the Porphyra because it was paneled with slabs of purple marble), to a reigning emperor, and were therefore legitimate beyond any claim to the contrary whatsoever.
  • Autokratōr (αὐτοκράτωρ) — "self-ruler": this title was originally equivalent to imperator, and was used by the emperors.

Titles used by the imperial family

  • Despotēs (δεσπότης) – "Lord": This title was used by the emperors themselves since the time of Justinian I, and was an honorific address for the sons of reigning emperors. It was extensively featured in coins, in lieu of Basileus. In the 12th century, Manuel I Komnenos made it a separate title, the highest "awarded" title after the emperor. The first such despotēs was actually a foreigner, Bela III of Hungary, signifying that Hungary was considered a Byzantine tributary state. In later times, a despot could be the holder of a despotate; for example, the Despotate of Morea, centred at Mistra, was held by the heir to the Byzantine throne after 1261. The feminine form, despoina, referred to a female despot or the wife of a despot, but it was also used to address the Empress.
  • Sebastokratōr (σεβαστοκράτωρ) – "Venerable Ruler": a title created by Alexios I Komnenos as a combination of autokratōr and sebastos (see below). The first sebastokratōr was Alexios' brother Isaakios. It was essentially a meaningless title, which signified only a close relationship with the emperor, but ranked immediately after the despotēs. The feminine form was sebastokratorissa. The first foreigner to be called sebastokratōr was Stefan Nemanja of Serbia, who was given the title in 1161. A Bulgarian aristocrat by the name Kaloyan also used the title.
  • Kaisar (καῖσαρ) – "Caesar": originally, as in the late Roman Empire, it was used for a subordinate co-emperor or the heir apparent, and was first among the "awarded" dignities. The office enjoyed extensive privileges, great prestige and power. When Alexios I created sebastokratōr, kaisar became third in importance, and fourth after Manuel I created despotēs. The feminine form was kaisarissa. It remained however an office of great importance, and was awarded to a few high-ranking and distinguished officials, and was only rarely awarded to foreigners. Justinian II named Tervel, khan of the Bulgars, kaisar in 705; the title then developed into the Slavic term tsar or czar (from Latin through Bulgarian and then into Russian, Serbian etc.). Andronikos II Palaiologos also named Roger de Flor, leader of the Catalan Grand Company, kaisar in 1304.
  • Nobelissimos (νωβελίσσιμος) - from the Latin Nobilissimus ("most noble"): originally a title given to close relatives of the Emperor, subordinate only to the kaisar. During the Komnenian period, the title was awarded to officials and foreign dignitaries, diluting its status. The title Prōtonobelissimos was created in its stead, until it too started to decline, only to be replaced by a further augmented form: Prōtonobelissimohypertatos. By the late Palaiologan era, the former had vanished, while the latter was a provincial official.
  • Kouropalatēs (κουροπαλάτης) - from the Latin cura palatii, "charge of the palace": First attested in the time of Justinian I, it was the official in charge of the running of the imperial palace. However, the great authority and wealth deriving from this position, as well as the close proximity to the Emperor, meant that it accumulated great prestige. It was awarded to important members of the imperial family, but from the 11th century onwards, it declined, and was usually awarded to the vassal rulers of Armenia and Caucasian Iberia.
  • Sebastos (σεβαστός) – "August One" this title is the literal Greek translation of the Latin term Augustus or Augoustos, was sometimes used by the emperors. As a separate title it appeared in the latter half of the 11th century, and was extensively awarded by Alexios I Komnenos to his brothers and relations. The female version of the title was sebastē. The special title prōtosebastos ("First Venerable One") was created for Hadrianos, Alexios' second brother, and awarded also to the Doge of Venice and the Sultan of Iconium. During the 12th century. it remained in use for the Emperor's and the sebastokratōr's children, and senior foreign dignitaries. However, the parallel processes of proliferation and devaluation of titles during the 12th century resulted in the creation of a bewildering array of often ridiculously large variations, by using the prefixes pan ("all"), hyper ("above"), prōto ("first"): examples include pansebastos, panhypersebastos, or hyperprōtopansebastohypertatos. Few of them actually survived past the 12th century, and all of them rapidly declined in importance.[8]

Later court titles

In the 8th-11th centuries, according to information provided by the Taktikon Uspensky, the Klētorologion of Philotheos (899) and the writings of Constantine Porphyrogennetos, below the imperial titles, the Byzantines distinguished two distinct categories of dignities (ἀξίαι): the "dignities by award" (διά βραβείων ἀξίαι), which were purely honorific court titles and were conferred by the award of a symbol of rank, and the "dignities by proclamation" (διά λόγου ἀξίαι), which were offices of the state and were conferred by imperial pronouncement. The former were further divided into three subcategories, depending on who was eligible for them: different sets of titles existed for the "Bearded Ones" (βαρβάτοι from Latin barbati, i.e. not eunuchs), the eunuchs (ἐκτομίαι) and women. State officials usually combined titles from both main categories, so that a high official would be both magistros (an "awarded" title) and logothetēs tou dromou (a "proclaimed" office).[8]

The Bearded Ones

The "by award" titles for the "Bearded Ones" were, in descending order of precedence:

  • Proedros (πρόεδρος) - "president": Originally reserved for eunuchs (see below), it was opened up in the mid-11th century to "Bearded Ones" as well, especially military officicials.[4]
  • Magistros (μάγιστρος) - in the early Byzantine state, the magister officiorum was one of the most senior officials, but as his duties were gradually relegated to other officials, by the 8th century, only the title was left. It remained a high honour, and only rarely awarded until the 10th century.[5] By the early 10th century, there were 12, the first in precedence among them bearing the title of prōtomagistros. Thereafter the number of its holders was inflated, and the office vanished sometime in the 12th century.
  • Vestarches (βεστάρχης) - adopted in the latter half of the 10th century for high-ranking eunuchs, it was awarded to "bearded" senior military officers and judicial officials of Constantinople from ca. 1050 on. It disappeared in the early 12th century.
  • Vestes (βέστης) - senior honorific title, first attested under John I Tzimiskes. Awarded to both eunuchs and non-eunuchs, it survived until the early 12th century.[7]
  • Anthypatos (ἀνθύπατος) - "proconsul": Originally the highest rank for provincial governors, it survived the creation of the Theme system, until, in the 9th century, it too became a purely honorific title. The variant prōtanthypatos was created in the 11th century to counter its decline in importance, but both disappeared by the end of the 12th century.
  • Patrikios (πατρίκιος) - "patrician": Established as the highest title of nobility by Constantine the Great, it remained one of the highest dignities until its disappearance in the Komnenian period, awarded to high-ranking officials, including eunuchs, and foreign rulers. The spouses of patricians bore the title patrikia (not to be confused with zostē patrikia, see below).
  • Prōtospatharios (πρωτοσπαθάριος) - "first spatharios". As its name signifies, it originally was the title borne by the leader of the spatharioi. For instance, in the 6th century Narses bore this title.[9] It later became one of the most common high court titles, awarded to senior officials such as the logothetai, the commanders of the imperial tagmata or the strategoi in charge of a theme. The title of prōtospatharios also signified admittance to the Senate. The office survived until the Palaiologan period, but had declined to the 35th place of the hierarchy.
  • Dishypatos (δισύπατος) - "twice consul". A very rare dignity, which originated possibly in the 8th century.
  • Spatharokandidatos (σπαθαροκανδιδάτος)
  • Spatharios (σπαθάριος) - "spatha-bearer": As their name signifies, the spatharioi were initially a special corps of imperial guards. They performed specific duties inside the imperial palace. The title survived until the early 12th century.
  • Hypatos (ὕπατος) - "consul": As in the Roman Republic and Empire, the title was initially given each year to two distinguished citizens (the "ordinary consuls"), until Justinian I halted the practice due to the extraordinary expenditure it involved. The title continued to be occasionally assumed by emperors on accession until the end of the 7th century. Honorary consuls however continued to be named, as attested by seals bearing the titles hypatos or apo hypatōn ("former consul"). The title was often conferred to the rulers of south Italian city-states.
  • Stratōr (στράτωρ) - "groom"
  • Kandidatos (κανδιδάτος) - from the Latin candidatus, so named because of their white tunics. They were originally a select group of guards, drawn from the Scholae Palatinae. The title disappeared in the Komnenian period.
  • Basilikos mandatōr (βασιλικός μανδάτωρ) - "imperial messenger"
  • Vestētōr (βεστήτωρ), were officers of the imperial wardrobe (Latin vestiarium).
  • Silentiarios (σιλεντιάριος), originally a group of courtiers responsible for the maintenance of order in the palace.
  • Stratēlatēs (στρατηλάτης), a translation of the Latin magister militum, and apoeparchōn (ἀποεπάρχων or ἀπὸ ἐπάρχων), a translation of the Latin ex praefectis. These two titles are listed as equal by Philotheos. Both were still high dignities in the 6th century, but were devalued afterwards.[8]

The eunuchs

By descending order of precedence, the "by award" titles for the eunuchs were:

  • Proedros (πρόεδρος) - "president": This was an entirely new rank introduced in the 960s by Nikephoros II Phokas and first awarded to Basil Lekapenos, the eunuch parakoimōmenos. The holder of this dignity was also the president of the Senate, and the term proedros was often used to denote precedence, e.g. proedros of the notarioi for the prōtonotarios. The title was widely awarded in the 11th century, when it was opened up to non-eunuchs, prompting the creation of the prōtoproedros to distinguish the most senior amongst its holders. It disappeared in the latter 12th century.[4]
  • Vestarches (βεστάρχης) - adopted in the latter half of the 10th century for high-ranking eunuchs, it was awarded to "bearded" senior military officers and judicial officials of Constantinople from ca. 1050 on. It disappeared in the early 12th century.[7]
  • Patrikios - The same as for the "Bearded Ones".
  • Vestes (βέστης) - The same as for the "Bearded Ones".[7]
  • Praipositos (πραιπόσιτος) - from the Latin praepositus, "placed before".
  • Prōtospatharios - The same as for the "Bearded Ones"
  • Primikērios (πριμικήριος) - from the Latin primicerius, "first in the list".
  • Ostiarios (ὁστιάριος) - from the Latin ostiarius, "doorkeeper, usher"
  • Spatharokoubikoularios (σπαθαροκουβικουλάριος)
  • Koubikoularios (κουβικουλάριος) - from the Latin cubicularius, "chamberlain".
  • Nipsistiarios (νιψιστιάριος)

Zostē patrikia

There is also a single special title reserved for women, that of zostē patrikia (ζωστὴ πατρικία, "Girded patrikia"). This title was given to the empress' ladies of honour, and, according to Philotheos, ranked very high in hierarchy, above even the magistros and proedros and just below the kouropalates. The title is known from the early 9th century, and disappeared in the 11th century.[13] Otherwise women bore the female forms of their husbands' titles. Palace offices

  • Parakoimomenos - literally, "one who sleeps nearby", was the High Chamberlain who sleeps in the Emperor's bedchamber. Usually a eunuch, during the 9th-10th centuries, the holders of this office often functioned as de facto chief ministers of the Empire.
  • Protovestiarios - usually a minor relative of the emperor, who took care of the emperor’s personal wardrobe, especially on military campaigns. He was also sometimes responsible for other members of the imperial household, and the emperor’s personal finances. The older term, from before the time of Justinian I, was curopalata (or kouropalates in Greek). This was derived from kourator (curator), an earlier official responsible for financial matters. The vestiarios was a subordinate official. The protovestiaria and vestiaria performed the same functions for the empress.
  • Papias - great concierge of the imperial palaces, responsible for the opening and closing of the palace gates each day.
  • Pinkernes - originally the emperor's cupbearer, later a senior honorific title.
  • Kanikleios - the keeper of the imperial inkstand, one of the senior officials of the imperial chancery. In the Komnenian and Palaiologan period, some of its holders were de facto chief ministers of the Empire.

Epi tes trapezes - official responsible for attending to the imperial table during banquets.[8] Of interest was the part played by eunuchs in the Byzantine imperial court. They were often entrusted to care for the emperor and his family. Eunuchs would also encircle the emperor when he changed clothes to protect him from the “Evil Eye”.[9] Eunuchs also served as high officials in the court and in the military.


Royalty born-in-the-purple means the baby was born in a room filled with the color purple. The empress would give birth at this location so the first thing a royal baby would see would be purple. The room was called the Porphyra or Purple Room.[6] Wikipedia sources References

  1. ^ a b c d Kazhdan (1991), p. 623
  2. ^ Robin Cormack, "Writing in Gold, Byzantine Society and its Icons", 1985, George Philip, London, p180, using Kazhdan A.P. , 1974 (in Russian) ISBN 054001085-5
  3. ^ Spatharakis, Iohannis (1976). The portrait in Byzantine illuminated manuscripts. Brill Archive. p. 110. ISBN 9789004047839. 
  4. ^ a b Kazhdan (1991), p. 1727
  5. ^ Bury (1911), p. 21
  6. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 1267
  7. ^ a b c d Kazhdan (1991), p. 2162
  8. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 1600
  9. ^ a b Bury (1911), p. 27
 10. ^ Bury (1911), p. 26
 11. ^ Bury (1911), p. 25
 12. ^ Bury (1911), pp. 21, 23-24
 13. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 2231
 14. ^ Mark C. Bartusis, "The Kavallarioi of Byzantium" in Speculum, Vol. 63, No. 2 (Apr., 1988), pp. 343-350
 15. ^ Bury (1911), p. 32
 16. ^ Steven Runciman, Byzantine Style and Civilization, 1975, Penguin


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