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The Forgotten Empire
1000 Years of Byzantium

Classics 113 (a Freshman Writing Seminar), Fall 1998
Jeffrey Rusten, Cornell University

From Isaac Asimov, Constantinople: The Forgotten Empire

Pages 1-17

THE TOWN ON THE STRAIT

THE FORGOTTEN EMPIRE

When we think of the Middle Ages, we are apt to think of the fall of the Roman Empire and the victory of the barbarians. We think of the decline of learning, of the coming of feudalism and petty warfare. Yet that is not entirely so, for the Roman Empire did not really fall. It lasted all through the Middle Ages. Europe and America as they exist now would not be here if the Roman Empire had not continued to prevail for a thou-sand years after it was supposed to have fallen.

When we say that the Roman Empire fell, all we mean is that its western provinces were invaded by German tribesmen and their civilization disrupted. The eastern half of the Roman Em-pire, however, remained intact and for centuries occupied the southeast corner of Europe with adjacent lands in Asia.

This portion of the Roman Empire continued to be rich and powerful all through the centuries when western Europe was weak and divided. The empire remained learned and cultured, when western Europe was ignorant and barbarous The empire, out of its strength, held off the swelling forces of eastern invaders for a thousand years; and western Europe, safe behind that barrier of military might, could develop in peace until its culture formed a high civilization distinctly its own.

The empire of the southeast transmitted to the West both Roman law and Greek learning. It passed on art, architecture and manners; it gave the West great abstractions-like the notion of absolute monarchy-and small conveniences-like forks. What's more, it gave all this and religion, too, to eastern Europe-and to Russia, in particular.

But at last western Europe grew strong and capable of defending itself, while the empire wore away with exhaustion. And what was western Europe's return for what it had received? It gave back contempt and hatred. It hurt in every way it could the forlorn remnant of the once-great empire, and when the final death throes came, it coldly withheld any help. The ingratitude continues even after death, for the history of that empire is virtually ignored in our schools, and when bits are presented, it is done without sympathy.

So few westerners realized that in the centuries when Paris and London were ramshackle towns, with streets of mud and hovels of wood, there was a queen city in the East that was rich in gold, filled with works of art, bursting with gorgeous churches, busy with commerce-the wonder and the admiration of all who saw it.

That city was the capital of the Roman Empire of the Middle Ages; it was Constantinople. And the history of that city extends back a thousand years before it was Constantinople

OPPOSITE THE CITY OF THE BLIND

In the seventh century B.C., the Greek cities were overcrowded. Food was scarce and prices were high. Those Greeks with some spirit of adventure loaded themselves and their families, together with what possessions they could carry, into ships and went forth in search of a new home. Here and there along the shores of the broad Mediterranean there might be places where a new city could be founded, where land might be cultivated and food grown.

Some ships wandered northeastward. In that direction, the Aegean Sea that washed the eastern shores of Greece narrowed to a winding strait called the Hellespont (now known as the Dardanelles) which separated Europe and Asia Minor. This broadened again to a small sea, then called the Propontis and now the Sea of Marmara. Then came a second and shorter strait, the Bosporus, and beyond that was Pontus, the body of water we now call the Black Sea.

The Black Sea acted like a magnet on would-be colonists, for grain grew in the lands that bordered it. The broad plains to the north (called Scythia in ancient times and the Ukraine now) were flat and fertile lands entirely different from the rocky mountainous soil of Greece. Those plains were a never-ending source of food.

Greek legends told of early attempts to establish trade routes in that direction. There was the tale of Jason and his Argonauts searching for the Golden Fleece. This was described as ram's wool miraculously turned to gold, and Jason found it at last in Colchis, a land at the eastern edge of the Black Sea. We might well suppose that the tale is a legendary version of an early trading expedition.

The ancient city of Troy stood in Asia Minor at the entrance to the Hellespont. Merchants traveling to and from the Black Sea had to pay tolls at Troy or they could not pass, and the city grew rich from this. The famous siege of Troy was probably all effort on the part of the Greeks to destroy the middleman and to open the trade route wider. But after the fall of Troy in 1200 B.C., Greece had gone through a "dark age." Uncivilized tribes from the north had laid it waste and it was some centuries before a recovery could be made.

Now in the seventh century, B. C., however, Greece was almost itself again and the Greek ships were feeling their way across the sea, establishing colonies. As in the days of Jason six centuries before, the ships were working their way toward the grain-rich Black Sea. This time they intended more than trade, for they dotted the shores of the sea with new Greek cities.

In 651 B.C., a ship was moving northeastward across the Aegean under a leader named Byzas. Their home city was Megara (meg'uh-ruh) on the isthmus that connected northern Greece with the southern peninsula called the Peloponnesus. Megara was never one of the really important Greek cities, for it was doomed to be overshadowed by the cities of Athens, fifteen miles to its east, and Corinth, twenty-five miles to its west. In fact, the most important event in all its history was probably the sending out of this particular ship.

The colonists had consulted the oracle at Delphi before leaving. The oracle was the most sacred holy place in Greece and the words of its priestess were considered divinely inspired glimpses into the future. "You will find a new home." she had told them, "opposite the city of the blind.'' As usual, the oracle's words were unclear. There was no city of blind people.

The ship passed through the Hellespont, crossed the Propontis, and approached the Bosporus. The Bosporus was twenty miles long and quite narrow; it was only half a mile wide in spots. A city founded on the banks of the Bosporus could control trade between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea as Troy had once done. Such a city would have a good chance of being prosperous and wealthy.

But others had had this idea before. In fact, in 615 B.C., eighteen years before, an earlier group of colonists from Megara had established a city on the Asia Minor side of the Bosporus, just at its southern opening. The city was Chalcedon (kal'sih-don) Byzas' ship stopped at Chalcedon and the men aboard must have felt chagrined. Chalcedon was a thriving little town; it was a pity they had been forestalled.

Then they went on their way and some two and a half miles northwest of Chalcedon, on the other side of the Bosporus, they saw a site which was ideal. Chalcedon had been built along a fairly straight line of shore with some moderately good harbor facilities. Here on the other side, through a river broadened out and entered the Bosporus. That river (later called the "Golden Horn") provided a wide beautiful, and large harbor. It could hold any number of ships, it could be easily defended-there could be nothing better.

Between the river and the main body of the sea was a tongue of land which would be perfect for a city. It was surrounded by water on three sides. With a strong wall on the fourth side and a good navy, it could be impregnable. How, they wondered, could the earlier colonists have ignored this beautiful site on the European side in favor of the much inferior place where they had established Chalcedon? Surely, the people of Chalcedon must have been blind to choose the poorer site.

And there it was. Chalcedon was the city of the blind to which the oracle at Delphi had referred. Byzas therefore founded his town opposite it as the oracle had directed. He named it Byzantion after himself' but we know it better in the Latin spelling that was eventually given it by the Romans- Byzantium (bih-zan´-shee-um. ) Note: Of course, it is very possible that this whole story I have given you is just fiction-a legend that grew up to explain the name- and that no person such as Byzas ever lived. Another explanation for the name is that it means "compact" because the city was pressed together on the tongue of land on which it was founded.

THE LIFE LINE OF ATHENS

For a century and a half, Byzantium prospered as a free city: a way station for countless ships and sailors and a depot for grain and other goods traveling between the Black Sea anti the Mediterranean. It was at a crossroads between Europe and Asia, and it would be a tempting prize for those who would want to possess it either to control the themselves or to facilitate the passage of an army. Since the Trojan War, however, no large army had attempted to cross from one continent to the other-until the coming of the Persian Empire.

Founded in 559 B.C., the Persian Empire controlled all of Asia west of India and north of Arabia. In 546 B.C. Asia Minor had come under Persian control, and in 521 B.C. the greatest of its rulers, Darius I (duh-ry' us), came to the throne. All the accessible regions of Asia were under his control, as was Egypt. His land-hungry eyes turned toward Europe.

In 513 B. C. Darius invaded Thrace (the region north of the Aegean Sea) and conquered it up to the Danube River. In doing so, he crossed the Bosporus and took over control of By-zantium.

Darius' European adventure posed a terrible threat to the Greek cities lying to the south of Thrace. It was not long before hostilities between Persia and the Greek cities began. War continued, on and off, for nearly two centuries.

In this long war, Byzantium always remained a particularly important prize. If the Greek cities controlled it, that insured an uninterrupted food supply for themselves and placed a block in the path of Persia.

The crisis of the Persian war came in 480 B. C. when Xerxes I (zurk'seez), the son of Darius, sent a huge army into Greece across the narrow straits. Against him were the Greek fleet, made up very largely of ships of the city of Athens, and the Greek army, of which the most important contingents were the warlike men of the city of Sparta.

Both cities won. The Persian fleet was smashed at the Battle of Salamis (sal'uh-mis), near Athens, the very year of the invasion. The Persian army was smashed at the Battle of Plataea (pluh-tee'uh), twenty-five miles northwest of Athens, the year after, in 479 B.C.

The Greek cities then counterattacked. The Athenians in their ships liberated the Greek cities on the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea. The Spartan king, Pausanias (paw-say' nee us), led his victorious army northward. In 477 B.C. he drove the Persian garrison out of Byzantium and occupied it in his turn. The Greeks again controlled the crossroads between the East and West.

Pausanias' career took a sudden downswing at this point when Persia adopted new tactics. The Persians saw they could not win by force of arms, for Greek armor and military technique were superior. The Persians could, however, use gold. They were rich and generous; the Greeks poor and corruptible.

Pausanias accepted Persian bribes and began to live a life of ostentatious luxury. Then, too, the Greek cities began to quarrel. While Persia remained a deadly threat, Athens and Sparta cooperated, but once victory had been won, each began to maneuver for supremacy.

Using rumors of Persian bribery, Athens struck at Sparta through Pausanias. She sent a fleet northward in 476 B.C., under her admiral, Cimon (sy'mon), and drove Pausanias out of Byzantium. Since her king's crime could not be denied, the embarrassed Sparta recalled him so that he could be tried for treason and Athens was left in control of the city.

Athens, as it happened, badly needed Byzantium. Athens occupied a particularly barren portion of Greece and its overflowing population depended for food on imports from abroad. It was necessary for the city to maintain a strong and efficient fleet and to safeguard control of Byzantium and the straits. Those straits had become Athens' life line and, for over a century, every move of that city was made with the safety of the route to the Black Sea in mind.

For a time, Athens dominated Greece, with Sparta as her chief rival. In the end, of course, it came to war. That war between the two cities (called the Peloponnesian War) began in 431 B. C. and continued, on and off, for a generation. For all this period, Byzantium was firmly under Athenian control, and its occasional revolts did not succeed while Athens' fleet held the sea.

By 405 B. C., however, Athens had worn itself down to skin, bones, and one last fleet. That last fleet desperately protected the Athenian life line and patrolled the straits. The Spartans with, unlimited access to Persian gold, had a capable naval commander for about the only time in their history. This com- Lysander (Ly-san'der), caught the Athenian ships by surprise. They were in the Hellespont beached at the mouth of the small Aegospotami River ( ee´gos-pot´uh-mee ) on the European side of the strait about 125 miles southwest of Byzantium and they were keeping an inadequate guard

The Spartans attacked suddenly; the Athenians could not get their ships into the water in time. Of the 180 Athenian ships only twenty managed to get away intact. With Athens' last fleet gone and her life line broken, she could do nothing but surrender. For a brief while, Sparta ruled Greece, and a Spartan garrison was placed in Byzantium.

Sparta was not, however, a worthy ruler. Good in war in a mechanical sort of way, Spartans did not know how to organize in peace. Wherever Spartans were in power, they fell prey to corruption and to an arrogance that antagonized those they tried to rule.

Gradually, Athens recovered from its defeat. Although it was never again the great dominating force it had been before the disasters of the Peloponnesian War, it managed to build a strong navy once more and fought to regain its life line. In 389 B.C, an Athenian general, Thrasybulus (thras´ih-byo'lus), led forty ships northward, defeated the Spartans, and drove them out of the region of the straits. Once again, Byzantium was under Athenian domination.

But that, too, was temporary. It was the curse of the Greeks that they could not combine. They could not possibly continue to maintain themselves as separate cities, free and equal, in the face of surrounding kingdoms with large areas and populations who were becoming steadily more apt at the art of war. They could do so all the less if they wasted their energies in constant petty warfare among themselves.

Yet they did just that. They lacked the foresight or the spirit of self-sacrifice to give up some local sovereignty in favor of the common good. Nor was any one city strong enough to impose its will on the others by force. In fact, as time went on, the forces of fragmentation gained ground and such partial combinations as had been formed broke up. In 356 B.C. Byzantium was one of the cities that broke away from the loose league that had formed under Athenian leadership. Athens recognized Byzantium's independence the next year, and for the first time in over a century and a half the city on the strait was truly free.

THE COMING OF MACEDON

It didn't last long. At the very time Byzantium was gaining its independence, the kingdom of Macedon (just to the north of Greece) was feeling the stimulating effect of the genius of its new king, Philip II.

Philip reorganized the kingdom, establishing and training a splendid army, which included a close-knit group of longspeared infantry called a "phalanx" and an efficient cavalry corps trained to support that phalanx. Gold mines were discovered in the country and that gave him money with which to bribe the politicians of the Greek cities.

What with Philip's artful intrigue, his skillful use of gold, and his well-organized army, Macedon made itself dominant in the north. Opposed to him, however, was the stubborn army of the Greek city of Thebes. Thebes had surprised the Greek world by resoundingly defeating the Spartans in 371 B.C. and it had been dominant in Greece since. And there were else Athenians, too, who had never really recovered their morale after their ter-rible defeat but who still carried the prestige of past greatness.

Philip played a skillful game, though, making each of his moves fall just short of provoking a strong reaction. He would inch forward, placate Athens and Thebes, then inch forward again. The puzzled Athenians found that somehow Philip con-trolled an ever larger portion of the north without themselves ever seeming to have a good opportunity to take decisive ac-tion. Only the Athenian orator Demosthenes (Dee-mos' thih -neez) saw the danger in full, but he could not stir the Athenians.

I n 342 B.C. Philip felt strong enough to make a big move east-ward. To the east was Thrace, a land of uncivilized tribes who would make marvelous soldiers once under Philip's firm rule, and beyond Thrace, some 350 miles cast of the Macedonian capital at Pella, were Byzantium and the straits.

If Philip could take Byzantium (whether by intrigue or by war scarcely mattered) he could cut the Athenian life line, and all of Greece might fall to him with no trouble. Something more, too: with Byzantium, he could do as old Darius I had done over a century and a half before. He could clear the road between the continents and invade Asia as Darius had once in-vaded Europe. Philip, you see, had a great ambition. He wanted to invade Persia and take over as much as he could of that great, but now decaying, empire.

Philip's eastward campaign began with great success. Thrace was conquered, the Greek cities on the north Aegean coast were taken and, in 340 B.C., his army reached the outskirts of Byzantium.

The Byzantines immediately appealed to their old lords in Athens, from whom they had broken away only fifteen years before. Athens responded at once. Athens might well have felt, grimly, that Byzantium deserved to pay the price for the eagerness with which she had disowned the Athenian confeder-ation, but the Athenians couldn't afford the luxury of acting on that feeling. Byzantium controlled the grain routes and for that Athens had to fight. She sent her fleet northward and used it to feed the city. Philip had no seapower and, lacking that, could not take Byzantium. He lost an attempt at a surprise attack by night when moonlight gave him away. He had to retreat. He kept Thrace, but lost his chance at the straits.

The triumphant Byzantines were enormously exhilarated by their successful stand against the great Philip. They gave credit to their patron goddess of the moon, Hecate, whose light had so helped them. They struck commemorative coins bear-ing the symbol of night as befits worshipers of a moon god-dess-the crescent moon, and a star. The crescent and star have remained the special sign of the city right down to modern times.

Philip's defeat was by no means decisive, however. His fail-ure to gain the straits meant he had lost his chance to win Greece without a fight. Well, then, he would have to fight, but with good management he would need only one battle. That battle came in 338 B.C. at Chaeronea (keh'oh-nee'uh). There the Macedonian phalanx, fighting on the doorstep of Thebes, destroyed the elite corps of the Theban army to a man and sent the Athenians away in wild flight.

Philip then established a league of Greek cities with himself at the head and prepared for the invasion of Persia. He was assassinated just as the invasion was about to start, but his even more remarkable son, Alexander III (the Great), carried on. Alexander invaded Persia, conquered it all, and made Greek culture dominant in western Asia-a dominance that was to endure for over a thousand years.

After Alexander's death in 323 B.C., his empire was pulled to pieces by competing generals, and Byzantium was under the control of now one, now another. It was not as had as it seemed, however The battles of the generals were wasteful and useless, but under Macedonian rule (whatever the name of the general or, later, king) the Greek cities maintained a certain level of self-rule. On the whole they were more prosperous than when they had been independent. Byzantium, in particular, retained its status as a free city and enjoyed a period of particular prosperity on the occasion of what was a calamity for much of the rest of the Greek world.

In 280 B.C. Celtic tribes, called Gauls, poured southward into Greece from the north. They ravaged Macedon, killing the general who had just made himself king, and inflicted a couple of years of destruction and anarchy on the laud. They crossed over into Asia Minor in 278 B.C., and it was nearly fifty years before they were completely tamed.

During this terrible time, Byzantium avoided destruction by the expensive expedient of buying off the Gauls. On several occasions, she stripped herself bare so that the Gauls might agree to turn away. She then passed her losses on to those trad-ers who used the straits, for she raised her tolls sky-high, using the danger of the Gauls as her excuse.

One can appreciate Byzantium's terrible predicament, but those traders who found commerce more difficult and those consumers who found bread rising in price could scarcely ex-pect to feel well about it. One Greek city that particularly re-sented Byzantium's action was Rhodes. This city occupied an island in the southeastern Aegean Sea, about 350 miles south of Byzantine. Thanks to her island position and her strong fleet, she had fought off the Macedonian generals in the years after the death of Alexander the Great and had remained a truly free Greek city

Trade was Rhodes' livelihood, and in the interest of the free-dom of the seas she fought down pirates as well as any land power who tried to hamper trade with unfair tolls or restric-tions. Byzantium's tolls were certainly unfair, for though the Gaelic menace receded, and came to a final end by 232 B.C., the Byzantine tolls remained high.

The Rhodesians decided to reason with Byzantium through su-perior naval power. In 219 B.C. the Rhodesian fleet defeated the Byzantines. Rhodes, then, did more than insist on lowering the tolls; she demanded they be abolished altogether, and they were. This did not leave Byzantium destitute, however. There was still ample money to be made as a commercial center.

THE COMING OF ROME

But now another power was beginning to make itself felt in the Mediterranean. On the Italian peninsula, the city of Rome had been growing slowly stronger, almost unnoticed at first. By 202 B.C it had defeated the great commercial city of Carthage (a near squeak that was, too) and was absolutely supreme in the western Mediterranean. The Macedonian monarchies might have blocked Rome and prevented its further expansion if they had united. Like the Greek cities before them, however, they seemed to prefer to fight among themselves and go down piecemeal.

In 192 B.C. Rome went to war with the largest of the Macedo-nian monarchies, the Seleucid Empire, which governed much of the Asian territory that had once been Persian. Rome was victorious and in 190 B.C. a Roman army landed in Asia Minor for the first time. It was victorious again and Roman influence grew mightily.

In 138 B.C. Attalus III of Pergamum-a nation that ex-tended over the west-central portion of Asia Minor-died without heirs. He left his kingdom to Rome, which reorganized it as the province of Asia. The remaining kingdoms of Asia Minor, all Greek in language and culture since the time of Alexander the Great two centuries before, became Roman puppets to a greater or lesser degree. Only Pontus in the northeast tried to fight Rome and in the end, she failed, too. By 62 B.C. the Roman general Pompey had organized all of Asia Minor and Syria as either Roman provinces or Roman client-states under puppet kings.

By then, Byzantium, too, was under Roman domination. In-deed, it had turned to Rome quite early in the game, for it saw in Rome a protector against the Greek and Macedonian states who had been chiefly interested in keeping down its tolls.

Of course the change (as might have been predicted) did not in the end alter Byzantium's status at all. Rome was not interested in high tolls levied against itself either. Byzantium remained a "free city" under Roman domination, but this only meant it was allowed to live under its own laws where those laws did not seriously discommode Rome-and there were Romans on the spot to make sure the laws did not. Further-more, Byzantium paid out taxes to Rome and could make no decisions of its own with regard to its relations with other parts of the Roman realm.

Byzantium received benefits in return, of course. As Roman rule spread more widely over the Mediterranean, peace grew more prevalent. The endless quarrels that kept cities and na-tions in continual wars over the question of which was to be dominant faded away, for the decision had been reached at last. It was Rome that was to be dominant.

To be sure, there was a fifty-year period of civil war in the first century B.C. that ruffled the Roman world, but that came to an end in 31 B.C. Under Octavian Caesar, a great-nephew of Julius Caesar, the old republican institutions of Rome were reorganized and what was called the Roman Empire came to be established. Octavian, who assumed the name of Augustus, was the first emperor.

For two centuries after this, the entire Mediterranean basin (including Byzantium, of course) was in deep and almost un-disturbed peace. It had never experienced so long a peace be-fore, nor was it to experience so long a peace ever again. There was fighting on the Roman frontiers, an insurrection in Judea, and, for a brief time in A.D. 68 and 69, a quarrel over the impe-rial succession, but these were almost disregarded ripples on a quiet pond. NOTE: Dates that are later than the traditional year in which Jesus was born can be written with the initials AD., standing for "Anno Domini" or "in the year of the Lord." In this book, however, such years will be written without initials. I will write 400 B.C., for instance, but instead of ED. 400, I will simply write 400.

Byzantium, along with certain other areas of the Greek--speaking world, continued to possess a certain local autonomy, to have a kind of self-rule under leaders of its own choosing -at least in the first century of the empire. Such mild separa-tism tended to fade away, however. More and more, it was nec-essary to unify the economic and social practices of the empire to face the enemies that still existed beyond the Roman bor-ders.

For instance, east of Asia Minor and Syria there remained the farther half of what had once been the Persian Empire. It had grown strong again with the decline of the Macedonian Em-pire. Under two dynasties of kings, the Arsacid (under whom the realm was called Parthia) and the Sassanid (when it was called Persia again), this region remained a bitter and persist-ent foe of Rome for seven centuries.

As Rome, with its expansive drive declining, tried to equip itself to withstand Parthia, it found the presence of free cities in the east, however nominal that freedom might be, offering chinks of weakness. The Emperor Vespasian (ves-pay'zhan), who ruled from 69 to 79, ended all that. In the interest of mili-tary efficiency, he made all the islands of self-rule integral parts of the Roman state. That included the city of Byzantium. "You have forgotten how to be free," said Vespasian, with some con-tempt, in announcing the loss of its freedom to the city.

He was quite right, though it was not entirely the city's fault. For a couple of centuries it had been allowed only a nominal freedom that meant nothing and that had not served as inspiration at all. When Vespasian took it away, he took away nothing substantial, only a thin and broken-down veneer.

As long as the Roman peace continued, Byzantium profited freedom or not. It was a prosperous commercial city that forgot the very name of war. Probably its schoolchildren learned of the great siege of Philip of Macedon and how it was turned away, but that was five centuries in the past and there had been little heroism since.

Then came the fateful year of 192. In that year, the Roman Emperor Commodus (kom´oh-dus) had been assassinated and Rome rocked with competing successors. Soon the choice boiled down to three generals-one in the West, one in the center, and one in the East-who were dangerously evenly matched. The westerner was Clodius Albinus ( al-by'nus ); to central one, Septimius Severus ( se-veer'us); the easterner, Pescennius Niger (ny´jer).

Severus was the most vigorous of the three and the closest to Rome besides. He entered that city in 193 and forced his own acceptance as emperor. Niger and Albinus, however, did not agree to this at all. Niger was the more dangerous. He was a popular general who was in control of the eastern third of the empire, the wealthiest third. Under his control was Egypt, the region from which Rome imported most of its food supply. If Niger played his cards wisely, he could probably end as master.

Niger, however, did not do well. Perhaps he was too confident of the strength of the hand he held. The energetic Severus marched eastward after only thirty days in Rome and headed straight for Byzantium, for it was in that city that Niger had established himself most strongly.

Severus set part of his army to laying siege to Byzantium and took the rest into Asia Minor where he hoped to destroy Niger's army. In the course of the year 194 Severus fought three major battles in Asia Minor, winning each one. In the end, he cap-tured Niger and had him beheaded.

That, however, did not dispose of Byzantium. Byzas had not been wrong all those centuries ago. The city on the Golden Horn had a natural strength that made its capture difficult in-deed when the citizenry really put their mind to a defense. It was a single city, now, against a whole empire, but it held out for two additional years.

It might better have surrendered early in the game, but its leaders knew better than to expect anything less than death from the grim Severus, and there was always the hope that the emperor might be drawn away by troubles elsewhere (after all, Albinus still controlled anti-Severus armies in the west) and be forced to offer Byzantium liberal terms.

Byzantium's hopes were frustrated. Severus stuck to the siege, did not allow himself to be diverted by Albinus, and in 196, the city had to surrender. Bitterly, Severus put it to the sack: he massacred its leading citizens, destroyed its walls to the very ground, and reduced it to the rank of a village. The next year he turned on Albinus and finished him off.

Continue to the next chapter.

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