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Rulers of Byzantium

God has raised you, our revered lord, to the throne of kingship and made you by His grace, as you are called, a terrestrial god, to do and to act as you will.
Nikultzas, De officiis regis

In the one thousand years between the division of the Roman Empire and the fall of the eastern half to the Ottomans, eighty-five men and three women ruled Byzantium, along with four empress regents who ruled on behalf of their sons for a number of years. Of the eighty-eight emperors and empresses, forty-seven died natural deaths, six were killed during military revolts, seven were deposed and mutilated, eleven were deposed and exiled or entered a monastery, two were deposed and pursued a further political career, three were deposed, imprisoned, and later executed, six were murdered in their palace, one in church on Christmas day, and one by his uncle, one was killed by a mob, two were killed by foreigners in battle, and one retired. Thirteen emperors founded dynasties in which they were succeeded by multiple members of their family.

The rulers of Byzantium were at various times administrators, legislators, generals, theologians, historians, biographers, aristocrats, peasants, learned, and illiterate. Imperial seals of fifty-six emperors and empresses from the fifth to fifteenth centuries survive in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection. In this section their reigns are presented using these seals as an aid for interpreting the lives of this very diverse group of individuals.


Exhibit Items