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Brutal Byzantine Politics

The great failing of politics in the Roman and Byzantine Empires was the lack of political participation by
the different segments of society.

Gone were the elected Roman assemblies which had the ultimate authority over elections, legislation,
and criminal trials. The Senate became little more than a rubber stamp institution if it met at all.

Over the centuries the Empire increasingly became a top down dictatorship. Without the old Roman
system of elections the only choice to change government was murder, a violent coup d'état or civil
war.

The eastern Emperors used military force to grab power and adopted mutilation of political enemies to
frighten the public into submission.

Mutilation in the Eastern Roman Empire was a common method of punishment for criminals of the era
but it also had a role in the Empire's political life.

The mutilation of political rivals by the Emperor was deemed an effective way of sidelining from the line
of succession a person who was seen as a threat. In Byzantine culture the Emperor was a reflection of
heavenly authority. Since God was perfect the Emperor also had to be unblemished; any mutilation,
especially facial wounds, would disqualify an individual from taking the throne. An exception
was Justinian II (ὁ Ῥινότμητος, "the slit-nosed") who had his nose cut off (Greek - rhinokopia) when he
was overthrown in 695 but was able to become Emperor again in 705.

Some disfigurements practised bore a secondary practical rationale as well. This can be seen in a
common method of maiming, blinding. By blinding a rival one would not only restrict their mobility but
make it almost impossible for them to lead an army into battle, then an important part of taking control
of the Empire.

Castration was also used to eliminate potential opponents. In the Byzantine Empire, for a man to be
castrated meant that he was no longer a man, half-dead, "life that was half death". Castration also
eliminated any chance of heirs being born to threaten either the Emperor or the Emperor's children's
place at the throne.

Blinding as a punishment for political rivals and a recognized penalty for treachery was established in
705, although Emperor Phocas used it earlier during his rule as well, becoming common practice
from Heraclius onwards.

Justinian II (r. 685-695 and 705-711)

Justinian II was the last Roman Emperor of the Heraclian Dynasty, reigning from 685 to 695 and again
from 705 to 711. Justinian II was an ambitious and passionate ruler who was keen to restore the Empire
to its former glories, but he responded poorly to any opposition to his will and lacked the finesse of his
father, Constantine IV. Consequently, he generated enormous opposition to his reign.
In 695 the population rose under Leontios, the strategos of Hellas, and proclaimed him
Emperor. Justinian's nose was cut off to prevent his again seeking the throne. He was exiled
to Cherson in the Crimea. Later his nose was replaced by a solid gold replica of the original.

With the support of the Green faction the new Emperor Leontios was in turn overthrown in 698. In
what had by now become a tradition for deposed emperors, Leontios had his nose and tongue slit and
was imprisoned in the monastery of Psamathion in Constantinople.

While in exile, Justinian began to plot and gather supporters for an attempt to retake the throne. In
spring 705, with an army of 15,000 Bulgar and Slav horsemen Justinian appeared before the walls
of Constantinople. For three days, Justinian tried to convince the citizens of Constantinople to open the
gates, but to no avail. Unable to take the city by force, he and some companions entered through an
unused water conduit under the walls of the city, roused their supporters, and seized control of the city
in a midnight coup d'état.

Justinian once more ascended the throne, breaking the tradition preventing the mutilated from Imperial
rule. After tracking down his predecessors, he had his rivals Leontius and Tiberios brought in chains
before Justinian in the Hippodrome, now wearing a golden nasal prosthesis. There, before a jeering
populace, Justinian placed his feet on the necks of Tiberios and Leontios in a symbolic gesture of
subjugation before ordering theirexecution by beheading, followed by many of their partisans, as well as
deposing,blinding and exiling Patriarch Kallinikos I of Constantinople to Rome.

Justinian's tyrannical rule provoked another uprising against him. Cherson revolted and under the
leadership of the exiled general Bardanes, the city held out against a counter-attack and soon the forces
sent to suppress the rebellion joined it. The rebels then seized the capital and proclaimed Bardanes as
Emperor Philippicus;Justinian had been on his way to Armenia, and was unable to return to
Constantinople in time to defend it. He was arrested and executed outside the city in December 711, his
head being sent to Bardanes as a trophy.

On hearing the news of his death, Justinian's mother took his six-year-old son and co-emperor, Tiberius,
to sanctuary at St. Mary's Church in Blachernae, but was pursued by Philippicus' henchmen, who
dragged the child from the altar and, once outside the church, murdered him, thus eradicating the line
of Heraclius.

In May 713 soldiers rebelled in Thrace. Several of their officers penetrated the city and blinded the new
Emperor Bardanes on June 3, 713 while he was in the hippodrome.

John Athalarichos
John Athalarichos was an illegitimate son of the 7th century Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. In 637, he was
alleged to have taken part in a plot to overthrow Heraclius and seize the throne.

Heraclius ordered the amputation of each plotter's nose and hands. In addition to being thus mutilated,
Athalarichos was exiled to Prinkipo, one of the Princes' Islands. Theodore received the same treatment,
but was sent to Gaudomelete with additional instructions to cut off one leg.
Emperor Heraklonas
Constantine Heraclius (Latin: Flavius Constantinus Heraclius Augustus; 626–641), was the son
of Heraclius and his niece Martina, and was Byzantine Emperor briefly between February and
September 641.

The revolt which ensued toppled Heraklonas and his mother, who were subjected to mutilation and
banishment. This was the first time a reigning emperor had been subjected to mutilation, which was a
practice probably borrowed from the Persians; in this case, Martina's tongue and Heraklonas' nose were
cut out. Nothing further is known about Heraklonas after his removal and exile to Rhodes.

Castration as Political Punishment

Castration as a punishment for political rivals did not come into use until much later, becoming popular
in the 10th and 11th centuries. Castrated men were not seen as a threat, as no matter how much power
they gained they could never take the throne, and numerous eunuchs were entrusted with high and
confidential offices in the Byzantine court and administration.

A good example is that of Basil Lekapenos, the illegitimate son of the Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos,
who was castrated when young. He gained enough power to become parakoimomenos and effective
prime minister for three successive emperors, but could not assume the throne himself.

Other mutilations were the severing of the nose or the amputating of limbs.

The last to use this method voluntarily was Michael VIII Palaiologos, although some of his successors
were forced to use it again by the Ottoman Sultans.

Family of John the Orphanotrophos


John the Orphanotrophos was the chief court eunuch (parakoimomenos) during the reign of
the Byzantine Emperor Romanos III (r. 1028–1034).

As the epilepsy afflicting Michael IV worsened, John's grip on power tightened. John convinced the
empress to adopt Stephen's son Michael as her own, thus ensuring the continuation of the
Paphlagonian line. Michael IV died on 10 December 1041, possibly in suspicious circumstances, and
Michael V succeeded him. Having seen Michael elevated to the imperial throne, John made his nephew
Constantine his protégé with the object, according to Psellos, of ensuring his succession.

Michael V exiled John to the Monastery of Monobatae in 1041 and then, again according to Psellos,
had all of John's male relatives castrated. John and his brother Constantine were blinded in 1042 on the
orders of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael I Cerularius. In the reign of Constantine IX, John was
sent to Lesbos and blinded. He died at Lesbos on 13 May 1043.

Constantine (Son of Leo V)


Symbatios was the eldest son of the Byzantine emperor Leo V the Armenian (r. 813–820). Soon after the
coronation of his father, he was crowned co-emperor and renamed Constantine (Κωνσταντίνος). He
reigned nominally along with his father until the latter's deposition in 820.
After the assassination of his father on 25 December 820, Constantine was banished to the island
of Prote along with his mother and three brothers. There, the four brothers
were castrated and tonsured. They spent the rest of their days there as monks, although
Emperor Michael II the Amorian (r. 820–829) allowed them to keep part of the proceeds from their
confiscated estates for their and their servants' upkeep.

Creating a Eunuch

(From Reddit Historians) - There are two basic types of eunuchs in history, “clean-cut” (no penis or
testicles) or just a removal of the testes. A simple removal of the testes is historically the most common
sort. There’s a third type where the penis was removed but the testicles left, but it’s only referenced in a
few places for Islamic eunuchs and seems to have been a very limited thing, and there’s really no reason
to do it like this other than punishment.

For clean-cut eunuchs there was basically only one method, cutting it all off in one go which I described
for the Ottoman black eunuchs in that link, and here’s the Chinese version from G. C. Stent who is
probably our most reliable Western reporter:

When the operation is about to take place, the candidate or victim--as the case may be--is placed on a
kang in a sitting--or rather, reclining position. One man supports him round the waist, while two others
separate his legs and hold them down firmly, to prevent any movement on his part. [...] with one sweep
of the knife he is made a eunuch.

The operation is performed in this manner:--white ligatures or bandages are bound tightly round the
lower part of the belly and the upper parts of the thighs, to prevent too much haemorrage. The parts
about to be operated on are then bathed three times with hot pepper-water, the intended eunuch
being in the reclining position as previously described. When the parts have been sufficiently bathed,
the whole,--both testicles and penis--are cut off as closely as possible with a small curved knife,
something in the shape of a sickle. The emasculation being effected, a pewter needle or spigot is
carefully thrust into the main orifice at the root of the penis; the wound is then covered with paper
saturated in cold water and is carefully bound up. After the wound is dressed the patient is made to
walk about the room, supported by two of the "knifers," for two or three hours, when he is allowed to
lie down.

The patient is not allowed to drink anything for three days, during which time he often suffers great
agony, not only from thirst, but from intense pain, and from the impossibility of relieving nature during
that period.

At the end of three days the bandage is taken off, the spigot is pulled out, and the sufferer obtains relief
in the copious flow of urine which spurts out like a fountain. If this takes place satisfactorily, the patient
is considered out of danger and congratulated on it; but if the unfortunate wretch cannot make water
he is doomed to a death of agony, for the passages have become swollen and nothing can save him.
The exposed urethra would form a standard stoma. Scrotal tissue healed with some cicatrix formation
but really nothing too dramatic. There are some historical drawings and photographs of this but I do not
link to them in here as they were obtained non-consensually. Google “stoma” if you really need to know
though, they all form the same looking thing really.

For removing the just the testes, you’ve got a few more options.

Crushing the testes inside the scrotum with no cutting, most likely used for Assyrians (through some
context clues I can go into), reportedly used for young boys and infants in the Byzantine empire, and
also reportedly used for Italian castrati.

Cutting the scrotum open and removing the testes. This is rather finicky but one method reportedly in
use in Italy during the heyday of the castrati.

A full removal of the scrotum with testes inside. I don’t suppose you do any livestock farming? This is the
method in which the “castrator” tool was for, which are still used for livestock. It would often be heated
to cauterize the wound right off, which prevented infection.